The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday 31 January 2019

I think she was taking the mickey!

After hearing I had signed up for a new yoga class my friend sent me a video of this little 98 year old Indian lady yogi with words to the effect "that'll be you soon"! I think she was making fun of me don't you! But that's where the similarities end apparently. Firstly, I'm not Indian, secondly I have all my own teeth but seriously!!! This lady is just amazing. I could only ever aspire to be 1/10th as good as her in my dreams! But it says a lot for yoga doesn't it! 

I had my second lesson on Tuesday and again I loved it. Actually, said friend came with me. Not sure what she made of it or whether she will sign up but for me at least it was great! This week our teacher concentrated on shoulders and arms and it was even less "dynamic" than last week, but yet again I came out of there feeling wonderful. At the end of the class I get a kind of "stinging" feeling in the base of my spine which I reckon is down to the fact that I have a small "hollow" in my spine due to poor posture I guess. You know, when you lie on the floor your spine doesn't touch the ground all the way from neck to hips - I guess most of us have that little hollow right. Buuuut, at the end of the class when I lay down my spine was completely flat on the floor. And on waking up the next morning I realized that my back was again touching the mattress all the way down and it felt great. I realize this is something that you have to keep working on but I have to admit I think I'm completely hooked!

Anyway, yesterday we had quite a heavy snow fall and I did hesitate to drive in to Geneva to my work's gym but … damn and drat .... the snow plough came through at 5 a.m. and then again at mid-day and I had no excuse, so off I went. I think I will have to learn to go to the gym first before stopping to chat with colleagues though as I didn't get as much time in as I would have liked! I made a cake to take in and got chatting to my former boss so that cut into my gym time (but at least the cake is all gone). I wanted to get out of there before 4 pm as I didn't want to get caught in rush hour traffic - but no such luck! If you take the Geneva ring road to France there are three tunnels before the border, and just as I was passing the airport I saw a sign to say that there had been an accident in the first tunnel and everything was at a standstill! Seems nothing ever changes right! It took me 90 minutes to get home and yet again I was so so glad I don't have to do that commute any more. And then, this morning on my FB feed I saw that there was another accident at the toll booth and traffic was yet again completely blocked heading in to Geneva. Thank GOD I no longer have to do that! On the other hand, I finally got paid my first pension payment! It felt like it would never happen! We routinely got paid early in December (17th December I think) and since my pension isn't paid until the last day of the month (as opposed to 25th of the month for my salary), it felt like my December salary had to last until the 91st of January! Still, even though my pension is only about one-third of my salary this one didn't seem so bad as I also received the lump sum I am going to be using to pay off my mortgage in April. So the bank account is (temporarily) looking very healthy indeed. Not that it will last but I just might take a picture of that balance to frame and put on my wall!

In other news, on Tuesday night I had my first patchwork lesson of the year. This time we are making a Kaffee Fassett mystery quilt, which is made up basically of two repeating blocks. At least I hope to get it down pat by force of sheer repetition. It isn't difficult as such but I find it hard to be so accurate (down to the millimetre) in order to get the repeating patterns lined up. Fingers crossed I can get the hang of it as it sure isn't cheap. And since I am no longer at work, getting home at 11 p.m. after my class didn't phase me in the least!

I mentioned in my last post that I have rented a car in North Wales to get around while I am back for my brother's funeral. Well I got an email from them confirming the reservation and asking me to call them. I tried a couple of times but it sounded like someone was trying to make a call wearing ear plugs and snorkeling gear while chewing on marbles so I had to give up in the end. I sent them a mail asking what they needed to know but in fact it was just asking me if I needed to be picked up (from the train station, for instance) in order to get to my rental car! I'm quite impressed I have to say. Good service and all that.

Talking of "good service" though, I was reading an article about poverty in the UK this morning and people on the low or no income scale who are struggling with usurious loans. I thought these horrendous loan "deals" had been done away with when Wonga went bust, but one instance they quoted was car loans at 535%!!! Now you may ask why someone with a low income would be thinking of buying a car but public transport isn't a given in all areas and is definitely not always cheaper. Either way, these people are, for the most part, definitely being taken to the cleaners and falling ever deeper into the debt spiral because of these crooks posing as benevolent lenders. I know it's not true of everyone and some people are just stupid with money, but I can't help feeling that these kinds of lending rates are just criminal! It does, however, beggar belief that some of these young women are continuing to have babies with (seemingly) no father in the picture. Surely it is madness to keep having children if you can't count on the child's father to be there!! Where are these fathers and where is their accountability (read "financial responsibility")? And again I know that this is a stereotype and some got into this awful position through no fault of their own - but surely it's time to stop these kinds of loans once and for all. To save people who can't seem to save themselves! This is where social services need to step in, in my opinion, but of course their budgets are being cut way back to the bone also. Rant over!

Anyway, moving on, I have been watching the weather to see if there will be a problem with my flight on Sunday. It seems like (from this end at least) all should be well. Fingers crossed. Then I had a call from Steve who told me he was supposed to be "snowed in" - and all they got was about one-eighth of an inch of snow. I burst out laughing. According to Steve, for the most part the newspapers send some poor sod off to the far north of Scotland to photograph a car in a ditch and then that becomes the "norm" as far as the UK is concerned. Now I know the north does get dreadful weather (as indeed does Wales) but if you live there you know it's coming and, presumably, know how to deal with it! As for Steve, he has a series of hospital appointments prior to going in for his bone marrow transplant but he actually does look rather well. Poor bugger had to have a skin lesion removed from his head - which they spotted some time ago but didn't want to touch until he was over his first bout of chemo. Now he has a rather large scar on the top of his head and scarring down his arm where they took skin for the skin graft. Still, it's better than last time I spoke to him as he had what looked like a rather large piece of ravioli stuck on his head while the scarring healed. Now all he needs is a baseball cap in order not to scare the local kiddies. Poor devil, I know he will be glad when it's all over, but then, as he said, he would rather that than my brother's situation!

And finally, I know I should get my ex husband's FB feed off my page, but this morning he certainly took the biscuit. He posts the most racist pro-Trump crap I have ever seen, totally "anti immigrant" and "anti foreigner". He seems to forget his ex wife is a "foreigner", as are his two daughters-in-law, and that he himself was an "immigrant" for over 30 years! Man, please stop me banging my head against a wall. At least I have now blocked his FB drivel from appearing on my own. Buuuut, this morning he wrote something along the lines of "kids who have to walk 1,000 yards to get to school in this weather should get the day off????? But kids who only have to walk two blocks should get their a$$$ into school"! And this from a man who wrecked his car (drunk) and called me at 1 a.m. from the border where he had abandoned his car. Next day I drove him to Ford where his car was dropped off (although where the girlfriend was I have no idea). When I went to drive off he hopped back in my car yelling "hey I need you to take me home" (home being the girlfriend's house). I couldn't believe it! So I put my km counter back to zero and clocked up the distance that was "too far for him to walk". It was 800 metres!!! God give me strength!

Monday 28 January 2019

It's all go!

Honestly, I feel like I've booked so many "planes, trains and automobiles" this January that I should open a travel agent's! Or maybe not, as it happens! Many years ago I thought that I would enjoy that as a job but now? Nah, not so much! I think I get so paranoid I will miss something that I couldn't imagine taking on the responsibility for someone else's travels! Oddly enough, my daughter-in-law loves organizing and booking all their tailor-made trips - she says that is the best part! Not me, I guess old dogs/new tricks and what not!

I have already booked my flight back to the UK for this Sunday. I will be flying to Bournemouth to stay with my sister and her husband and then we will drive up to Wales for the funeral on Friday. My oldest son and his wife can't make the funeral but since they were good enough to fly out and see my brother while he was still alive nobody has any problem with them not being able to make it! Nobody would have any problem in any case because that's just the way it is sometimes isn't it. My youngest son, on the other hand, has said that he really wants to go as both he and his fiancée have been able to get the Thursday and Friday off. But trying to figure out the best way to get us all to meet up was tricky. Flying in to Liverpool was a non-starter for them so we looked at Manchester and managed to get half-decent priced flights. When I asked my son how he felt about my renting a car at the airport and him driving (on the left) to get to Wales he said he didn't feel too bad about that part but he was worried about changing gears with his left hand so could he maybe get an automatic! And then, bless him, he wanted to know what paperwork he would have to show at the border! Which border? He meant the England/Wales border! Ah, that's sweet! It never occurred to me that he wouldn't know that there is no physical border between the two countries, no customs, no border crossing and so on. But then, he's never been to Wales and has only ever been to family in England so why should he think it would be any different from here where we cross the Swiss/French border constantly!

Anyway, in the end we decided that they would get the train to Wales and I would rent a car in Wales that we would use to run around and I would fly back out with them from Manchester, dropping the rental car off at the airport. Phew, that's one thing sorted! Also, since only my brother's oldest son and gf will be staying at his house, the kids and I can stay there too (my credit card is saying "thank you, thank you, thank you", as I have paid for the kids' flights too and my credit card is groaning at the moment!). Either way, we could have stayed in Llandudno in a hotel and driven the 10 minutes to Conwy or stayed in Conwy at my brother's where it is just a 10 minute walk into town, so it's a good solution for all of us. Then my friend will pick the three of us up from the airport in Geneva so that cuts out worrying about expensive taxis!

As I am slowly getting the hang of this retirement business, I realize I have to make an effort to actually get things done now, whereas before I constantly had my diary in front of me at work and it felt easier to just knock out things on my "to do" list. Today's project was to get my train tickets sorted for my trip to Sri Lanka. I will be flying Zurich/Colombo so decided to take the train to Zurich rather than fly but every time I tried to book it it has always been "too early". In the meantime, the timings of both my outgoing and incoming flights have changed (slightly) but at least I was able to get the return train tickets booked and printed today. When I arrive back it will be around 8 p.m. in Zurich and as I don't want to run the risk of missing the last flight to Geneva and I don't want to be making a three-hour train journey and arriving in Geneva around midnight I decided I will spend the night at Zurich airport, so more expense (and more groans from my credit card). Oh well, it was all planned for!

Also, a friend and I decided that this year we would definitely make the trip to Cinque Terre in Italy. My friend phoned up today and the places are booking up fast! In fact, the single rooms have all gone so we dashed down there and booked a double room with twin beds - just hope she can cope with my snoring as I could honestly snore for Britain! Anyway, that's done, (the trip is in April) and while we were at it we paid for our next day trip (in May) to the market in Turin! So all done. These are bus trips (I reckon six hours to Cinque Terre) so not as expensive as you might imagine but needing to be booked sooner rather than later.

Cinque Terre
Actually they have quite a few nice looking trips that we will consider later in the year. I know, I know, we're becoming little old ladies with our bus trips, but while I don't mind driving, I guess, like most people, I'm not too keen on driving round major European cities looking for parking spaces/hotels!

And finally, I have been very good about exercising recently and managed seven for seven last week. Then on Sunday we got very heavy rain/snow so I took a break, but am hoping to get back on the bandwagon again soon. We'll see how that works won't we! It seems like I already have so many things planned (weekly as well as one-off) I think I might need to hire a PA - oh that's right, I was one! So onwards and upwards then!

Friday 25 January 2019

You win some, you lose some!

Or I guess this post could be titled "the pluses and minuses of retirement" - kinda! Well so far I'm finding that I'm going to bed late - around 12 or 12.30 and consequently not getting up until 8 or 8.30. I had hoped to start getting up earlier than that but at the moment this seems to be my natural rhythm! Oh well, I guess I was never meant to be a lark was I! On the plus side, I am keeping up with some form of exercise most days. Yesterday I went with my friend to an exercise group which takes place in Geneva on Thursday afternoons. I had thought it was a hiking group but in fact it is more of a "keep fit" all year round group. There were about 30 of us and I would guess only five of us were under 70, but by gosh these people were fit! We started off warming up on the track, either running or walking - you can imagine which group I joined - and then they had us doing warm-up exercises for about 15 minutes before setting off on a walk up into the woods behind the sports centre. About 15 of them set off running and the rest of us chose to walk it. The walk wasn't difficult but what was tricky was knowing what to wear! You see, it had snowed heavily the night before and it was bloody freezing that day so I put on a rather heavy winter jacket. But as soon as we set off walking I obviously warmed up and my jacket became uncomfortably hot and heavy. Then when we got back we did some stretching exercises and the chill began to set in. Which makes me think, when I head back to the UK next Sunday I will stop in at the sporting goods shop to check out what they have by way of lightweight winter wear. You can get it all here of course but everything is so much cheaper in Britain! With my trip to Sri Lanka in mind I have also bought a lightweight "sleeping bag" to sleep in at the hotels and a microlight towel. I have never really bothered much about hotels as long as my bed is clean but my friend was telling me she always takes an old single duvet cover to sleep in and then leaves it behind when she goes to places where the accommodation is not exactly 4-5 star! I didn't want to pack something that might be heavy so I ordered the kind of lightweight sleeping bag that you would use in a Youth Hostel and it really weighs just a matter of ounces! (Note to self, I was a member of the Youth Hostel Association until I was about 50 so who knows, when I decide I want to travel round Britain again I might take up youth hostelling again. Why not, the hostels are rather nice nowadays and pretty much always in lovely locations)!

Anyway, back to the exercise group. While I was walking through the woods I started chatting to a rather nice Swiss lady and as we chatted an absolute "bullet" of a little lady went running past us at full tilt! My new friend pointed out that "bullet lady" was over 80 years old. She had a full head of thick hair, a great figure and would have put a greyhound to shame! I want to be her when I grow up! Actually, most of these people were very fit - I suppose they had been doing this all their lives and it certainly showed! So while the weather was pretty rotten, my friend explained that this group meets every week come rain or shine, so I will sign up (and pay up) next week and keep plugging away.

Yesterday's snowfall
Then today, after coming back from shopping, I took myself off for another local walk. My friend had told me about a route round our little village but I'm pretty sure I took the wrong path and ended up half way up the mountain behind my house. I didn't mind the walking as the weather was beautiful but around 4.30 p.m. the sun starts to go behind the mountain and it becomes colder and darker, so I decided to double back before it got too dark and cold. In the meantime, I managed to get some nice pictures from further up the mountain behind me.

Stopping to chat to these lovelies was just an excuse to catch my breath really!
I love this pretty chalet just up behind my house!
Another thing I wanted to do when I quit work was start experimenting in the kitchen again since I have always liked cooking. I had seen a recipe for "sopa seca" (dry soup) so thought I would have a shot at that. I didn't have the fine pasta that it called for but I had some Swiss spaetzli that I wanted to use up so threw that in. Maybe I should have stuck with the recipe but I would give my version maybe six out of ten! Either way I ate it! Then when I went shopping last week I bought some unsweetened almond milk - berrrkkkk! So I was looking for a recipe that would use that up plus a second bag of spinach I had in the freezer, when lo and behold up popped a recipe for "creamy spinach soup" which called for almond milk! Bingo! Or not, as the case may be. Yuck, you could taste the almond milk throughout so I sprinkled liberal amounts of soy sauce into it and ate it for dinner tonight. I will definitely finish it but I will definitely not be making that recipe again! In fact, I will be avoiding the supermarket aisle with the almond milk in it all together!

And finally, we now have a date for my brother's funeral. Friday, 8th February. These things take a long time to set up in the UK so I knew I had time to come back home beforehand. I had wanted to fly to Dorset next Monday but when I checked out EasyJet they wanted 200 Swiss francs one way, without the luggage (that's about $210) and I wasn't paying that! So I got a flight out on the Sunday into Bournemouth, where I will be staying with my sister and we will all drive up to Wales on the Thursday before the funeral. My return flight will depend on whether or not my youngest son can fly out (and that depends on whether or not he can get time off). If he can make it I will probably fly out from Liverpool with him after the funeral. If not, I may well drive back down to Dorset with my sister and her husband and fly out from Bournemouth. We can work that out later I guess!

Wednesday 23 January 2019

A semblance of normality!

Well more than just my usual normality actually, it's better than my "normal". Since getting back from Wales I have been trying to get into some kind of routine to find out what being retired actually feels like. So on Sunday and Monday I forced myself off the sofa to go out walking as the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Freezing cold - but I never mind the cold - with bright sunshine. And of course, being out in the fresh air blew away all the cobwebs and allowed me time to just daydream and think. Then Monday evening it was back to my weekly sewing club where I am now Madame la Présidente! I have to admit that I like routine, with maybe just the occasional "blips" like holidays and outings (though certainly not deaths), but generally, as I say, I like routine. I was a little scared what retirement and lack of routine would feel like so I knew that I would have to get a routine established pretty quickly. The other side of that coin, of course, is being careful not to sign up to too many activities where I would overcommit myself as I don't want to go down that road either.

Before Christmas I had spoken with a lady at my sewing club about a local yoga class that she attends in the next village. Before I quit work I tended to do things in Geneva as there are lots of well organized opportunities, but Geneva is very expensive and I knew I didn't want to get into a new routine of driving into Geneva all the time - that's what I was getting away from by retiring right! Anyway, I had planned to go with Geneviève to this Tuesday afternoon yoga class (now I'm a little old lady I won't be wanting to drive in the dark right?) but of course having to dash off to Wales meant that I missed the first two classes. Anyway, I went yesterday and I reckon I was the youngest one there by about 15 years!!! To my taste it could have been a little bit more dynamic but either way it was great! The young teacher had us doing loads of exercises aimed specifically at the spine and the neck and I tell ya, after that 90 minute class I came out of there like Raggedy Anne - all wobbly and glowing! So I will definitely be going back. But just to put me right in my place about those "little old ladies", the group organizer gave me a flyer for a snow-shoe outing that they were all going on on 29 January and "would I like to join them"? Put me in my place why don't you! I have never snow-shoed or cross country skied, although I used to do downhill (very badly) many moons ago. Who knows, I  have even given some thought to getting back to that too. So there you go, never judge a book by its cover, nor little old ladies by their ability (or otherwise) to put their legs behind their heads - these old ducks are going snow-shoeing next week!

Actually, my first aim is to get fit(ter) as I am woefully out of shape. The stupid thing is I always loved sport as a young woman but I guess like most of us marriage, kids, jobs, commutes and so on meant that these things fell by the wayside. So I decided that Wednesday would be my day to drive into work to use our work's gym. It is very very cheap (about one-tenth of local prices) and well equipped. I like the machines anyway and they only ask that retirees don't use the gym during the busy periods. It (finally) started snowing this morning but I was determined to go so drove in at 1 p.m. so I could get my retiree badge and stop by the office to chat with my former boss. He is a bit worried as the recruitment of my replacement has gone pretty much nowhere so far and, he was told, they were unlikely to have anyone in post before April/May. To be honest it only starts hotting up towards the end of March anyway and really busy in June/July so those dates are doable but I sense he won't rest until he gets someone in that post.

So anyway, I spent a rather nice 90 minutes in the (empty) gym and then met some friends for drinks afterwards, thus allowing the rush hour traffic to subside. It felt great not to be sitting in that traffic I can tell you, particularly as it was snowing hard enough for the snow ploughs to be out. I am still on a Facebook feed about local traffic conditions and on Sunday night traffic was apparently at a standstill in the direction Geneva/Chamonix and then on Monday morning the major border into Geneva was also at a complete standstill! I'm so glad I'm out of that it's incredible. I did have a bit of a scare as I was driving into Geneva though as as I was driving on the motorway towards the toll booth I noticed that the hood of my car was juddering and I soon realized that we must not have shut it properly after messing around with the battery when I got a flat battery on 2 January. Obviously having to dash off to Wales and since then just tootling down into town occasionally I hadn't noticed it, but belting along the motorway at 110 km an hour I was just praying that it would hold until I could pull off at the toll and get it locked down. Thankfully I was able to slow right down, pull over and shut it properly - Lord knows what would have happened if it had flown up and left me "driving blind" on the motorway!

Tomorrow, all being well, I am joining my friend in a hiking group that she was introduced to by another former colleague. Throughout the skiing season they go on local walks, initially around some rather nice spots in Geneva and then, as spring nears, going on hikes further into the mountains, with those that want to either run or ski being free to do so (I don't think I'll be joining either of those two groups just yet!). D said she has always been the youngest and the least fit in the group - time to hand over that mantle to me then I guess! We'll see what the weather is like tomorrow though. If it's still snowing heavily I don't suppose we will go but we have time to make our minds up tomorrow!

Regarding my brother's death, my nephew just contacted me to say that they had finally been able to get the death certificate (him being "selfish" enough to die late on a Friday afternoon meant they couldn't get the death registered until yesterday). The funeral is on 8 February so I plan to fly back for that, but guess what, yesterday as I was making dinner I looked down and there was a little white feather on my kitchen floor. Very small really, but it hadn't blown in from outside (I had my doors and shutters shut because of the cold and the dark). It may just be baloney but I felt it was a message from my "guardian angel" and it made me smile. Thanks Phil!

Sunday 20 January 2019

RIP my lovely brother!

Well as we knew it was going to happen, my brother Phil died on Friday afternoon. I made the decision to fly back on Thursday as I felt his partner, Margaret, and oldest son, Darren, needed to spend some private time with him. And it was the right decision! I got to say my goodbyes while he was still "with it", although sleeping a lot. After I left I think he lost the ability to speak and would just doze most of the time, but occasionally open his eyes and smile or give them the thumbs up. Darren and Margaret had been to see him on Friday and had just returned home when they got a call from the hospital to say they might want to get back there quickly as they felt the end was near - and it was. They were with him when he died and I'm sure he knew he was loved - although I'm not sure he will ever know how much!

It was cancer of the stomach that killed him in the end and it came on very, very suddenly! He was only taken ill at the beginning of December and after initial tests they thought they might have caught it in time. It turns out that that gave him cruelly false hope as they quickly discovered it was a quick-spreading, very aggressive cancer and there was no hope! When I got to Wales to see him he actually looked a lot better than I expected (terribly thin of course but then there wasn't much of him to begin with). My sister and her husband and other brother drove up from Dorset the same day and we all went to the hospital together. There was some thought that maybe he had just been "hanging on" knowing we were coming but as I say, apart from being terribly thin, he was on good form, cracking jokes and being his usual self. We were all there when the doctor came in to talk to him and he gave his permission for us to stay so that we could all hear what was going on. The doctor very gently explained that there was no hope and said that he maybe had a week or two at the most. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do for him and my brother said "yeah, just one thing. Can you keep me alive till the end of the cricket season!" The doctor was Italian and I don't think he knew where to put himself but we all burst out laughing - that was my brother to a "T", always joking and, I suspect, trying to put us all at ease. In any case, it worked!

I went in to see him every day but you could honestly only stay so long as he just wanted to sleep. Still, he was compus mentis right up until the last days and we had time to have a good talk. Margaret and I made the difficult decision to ask him to talk about his final wishes - which he was happy to do - so as she gently questioned him I would write it down word for word. Occasionally they went right off tack and they would start reminiscing! "Hey Maggie, do you remember that time we went out for dinner and I had that poxy Moroccan tajine and you had four beautiful pieces of sea bass and you wouldn't give me any, you miserable bugger"! Then off they went in guffaws of laughter! It was really nice to hear and I wrote it all down, with the intention of writing it all up afterwards - which I did, "poxy Moroccan tajine" included!

He told us what clothes he wanted to wear, what music he wanted and the fact that he wanted his ashes scattered with his late wife's ashes in South Wales, then a few small things that he specifically wanted each son to have. They only have two sons so there will be an easy 50-50 split of assets of course!

Then he got on to the subject of where his will was, who he wanted to sell the house and his various bank accounts. One account had quite a substantial amount in it so at this point I put my pen down, took his hand and said "you do know you've always been my favourite brother don't you"! He burst out laughing and told me to piss off, so yep, he was still on the ball. He said that I could take anything I wanted from the home and I did indeed take a pretty china teacup and saucer (one of many that my sister-in-law had) as the boys wouldn't want most of it and it would go to charity. I then asked him for a very special item - his egg poacher! You know, the ones that cost £1 from Poundland (I couldn't find one) as I can't for the life of me poach an egg! He just gave me the evil eye and I successfully got that poacher through customs and safely stored in my cupboard now!

Armed with this knowledge I typed everything up and had him sign it - with me witnessing it - and then Margaret and I decided to head off to his bank to find out about the administrative formalities his sons would have to complete upon his death, as we knew they would be overwhelmed when the time came! Well believe it or not we walked out of there with a fully paid-up funeral plan (he had the choice of three) and had everything set up for when the time came. I know this might sound a bit ghoulish but we wanted to get as much done as possible and take that burden off the boys. Phil was happy with it all and so signed all the paperwork and as it turns out the boys are greatly relieved. They, of course, get to make final decisions regarding flowers and coffins and so on but the bulk of the admin has already been done and they are so grateful.

As I mentioned previously my oldest son and his wife flew out for the weekend. My youngest couldn't as he had just started a new job but Phil was ok with that. Then, quite unexpectedly, my niece showed up from Dorset, driving a total of 15 hours in one day to come up and see him with her family. You see, he really was loved!

Actually, Phil was a big kid who never seemed to grow up. Or at least, he always loved kids and was the "favourite uncle" who ended up playing water pistols and so on with the little ones - they all loved him. The little grandson from next door used to knock on his door and ask if he wanted to play football and the neighbours also have a video of him playing squirt guns with their granddaughters!

My niece's children made him a "get well soon" card which showed him playing water pistols with them in the garden.

I have a picture of him somewhere "teaching my two year old to smoke a pipe". Well he had Jordan toddling around Annecy with Phil's pork pie hat on his head and (unlit) pipe in his mouth. I'm not sure everyone would have approved but that photo is hilarious (and - no thanks to Phil - Jordan has never smoked!). I just hope that photo shows up some day!

Stuffing grass down my oldest's back!
Once we got our tears out the way we all started telling the stupid stories of "do you remember when ….". His son said he remembered one day walking through a muddy field with his mom and dad and Phil was going to show the boys how to jump over a muddy puddle. Which he did. Only thing is, his shoe got stuck in the mud on take off and he landed in the mud on the other side in his bare feet, with them giggling so hard his mom almost peed herself. And another time when they had been travelling by car and Phil had wound the window down because it was too hot. Then he turned to his wife and they got chatting away while driving along and he decided he was done with his coffee so pitched the dregs out the window - only he forgot he had just wound the window back up and he ended up with coffee dregs all over him. Cue more subdued giggling from the back of the car!

So I pitched in how my family had all driven down to the west coast of France and we drove over from the east of France to spend a 10 day camping holiday together. One day we decided to walk into town to get some groceries, but it was scorching hot and we had to wade through the sand to get to the supermarket. It was bloody hard going I can tell you, so we were all aghast when dingbat (Phil) showed up at the check-out with the most enormous watermelon which he insisted we had to have - so we made him carry that thing all across the sand dunes back to the camp site. Turns out he sank so much into the sand that he burned his ankles. My niece, Rachel, actually posted the following in-joke on Facebook!

A photo of Rachel and Phil on that holiday!
Phil was naturally devastated when his wife died suddenly three years ago. We all were, but none more so than him of course, but weirdly he was desperate not to die on 18 January - the anniversary of her death. Hopefully he didn't realize that he did indeed die on that day!

Phil with his wife, Brenda
So meeting Margaret 18 months after her death was, as he put it, an added bonus that he never expected. And they made each other so happy. Margaret has been an absolute rock since he became ill, moving into his house to take care of him and visiting him every day while he was in hospital. Yesterday she drove Darren into Llandudno to show him where he will have to register the death and then, I believe, she will finally go back to her own home 150 km away to try to get some rest.

Phil and Margaret
As I was waiting for my train to Manchester in order to fly home on Thursday a seagull came wandering brazenly up to me. I tell you, those buggers are massive. So massive in fact that, as Lee Evans said, they've even got bloody tattoos on their legs! So I took a picture of him - Phil would have liked that!

We both believe in the after life and he promised me he would be sending out white feathers, the symbol of your guardian angel, when he was strong enough to do so. But he made it quite clear that we wouldn't find them outside - he would be putting them inside so we could be sure it was from him!

I'm so glad I got to say my goodbyes Phil. You were brave to the end. I love you and miss you as one should miss a brother of course, but what I will really miss is our conversations because you were such an interesting, well-read man. Oh and I will miss your lousy jokes too. Love you so much. Until we meet again on the other side! Love from your little sis!

Saturday 19 January 2019

I see we can all sleep well in our beds tonight then!

Just saw something similar on Cro's blog. This would be funny if it wasn't so scary. The guy seems to actually believe this BS! But you have to admit, he is a comedian's dream. Move over George W!

Wednesday 16 January 2019


Isn't it great when family all pull together! I know we have our differences but geez when it works it's great! I've been schlepping round with my brother's partner trying to sort as much as possible for my nephews ahead of my brother's death. Got the funeral sorted according to his wishes, paid for, sorted out the bank accounts (what needs to be done as and when), including phone numbers, got all the info for the solicitor who will handle the will, the estate agent who will sell the house. Can't do much more to be honest. Then my kids flew out from Switzerland for an uncle they barely know really and we are all "family" again. On top of that my brother's youngest son in the Midlands called my sister in Dorset who called my aunt in Wales who called her son down the road - who will be picking up my brother's oldest son at the train station in about 30 minutes and taking him direct to the hospital! I hadn't seen this cousin of mine (the "pick-up guy) for probably 35 years until my sister-in-law died three years ago and here he is picking up my brother's son to take him to the hospital. It's a circuitous family circle but isn't it lovely when everyone pulls together! I know I would do it for anyone but to have it reciprocated is so very comforting isn't it!

North Wales!

I've been in North Wales (Conwy specifically) since last Tuesday when I flew out to see my brother, who has been hospitalized since around 27 December. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the stomach so I knew I had to get here quickly. What a shock that was as he only fell ill about six weeks ago! Anyway, I have been to see him and will (possibly) post more about him in another post, but I wanted to write a little about my stay in North Wales apart from as it pertains to my brother's health, because it has brought back so many memories!

My mom was from Betws-y-Coed (the chapel in the woods in Welsh) so I spent most of my summers staying in Betws as a little girl, and then working in my aunt's café on the quayside in Conwy after that. The first thing that strikes me is how pretty and green it is (all that rain you see), how many sheep there are (they are everywhere), and how lovely I find the Welsh language, which is now compulsory in Welsh schools. Truth be told it is probably closer to French than English and I just love that lilt!

I have been staying at my brother's house in Conwy. My brother's partner, Margaret, has been staying here since he became ill and for the first few days his oldest son, D, was also here. For D it is the ultimate struggle that we all have when we are still working, trying to get over to Conwy from Manchester (he doesn't drive), be there for his dad and also keep up with his work. To say it is stressful for him would be an understatement! Anyway, I arrived in Conwy by train and yet again it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful North Wales is.

This photo could have been taken from the back of my aunt's café (now a fish and chip shop)!

Conwy Castle
My sister, her husband and my other brother drove up from Dorset and after heading out to the hospital to see my brother we all ended up meeting up in Llandudno, where they were staying, to have dinner. Llandudno is also very beautiful with very gentile properties lining the long promenade. It was here that Lewis Carroll made his home for a time, I believe, and there are many, many statues throughout Llandudno paying tribute to his Alice in Wonderland characters!

The Grand Hotel - where my family stayed

The Mad Hatter

The promenade at Llandudno
My oldest son and his wife flew out for the weekend to see my brother (which he really appreciated) and took a trip up the Great Orme after their hospital visit - they told me it was beautiful! And to think in all the years I have visited Llandudno I have never been up there!

Great Orme
Another day after visiting my brother (he couldn't take too many visitors or for too long) we took a trip out to Betws-y-Coed as I wanted my son to see my grandmother's B&B (they loved it)!

My gran's place - Bod Hyfryd

Betws train station

Pont-y-Pair bridge
When the salmon are spawning they leap over the huge rocks at Pont-y-Pair bridge to try to get upstream. It is fascinating! Another time after the hospital we decided to eat in Conwy and ended up taking a walk on a very windy quayside to visit the "smallest house in Great Britain". My daughter-in-law, Lily, who is Swiss, just loved it and they have both decided that they are going to take a road trip round Wales at the earliest opportunity.

The smallest house in Great Britain
I apologize for not being so up-to-date on my blog reading/commenting but this week has been a bit intense, to be honest. It felt sad to be seeing all these lovely things without my brother, who is indeed terminal, but he could only take so much "visiting" at any one time. But we at least had time to create some good memories with him, I got to tell him how much I loved him, and he has promised to "come back and visit" from the other side as we both believe in the after life! I will write more about him in my next post.

Monday 7 January 2019


Isn't it funny how kind people can be! I don't know but I never expect anything and then when people show how kind they can be it always surprises me. Not making much sense am I! I'm not sure I know how to explain this but I am a bit of a loner. I don't even know if I have always been this way or if my god-awful marriage made me that way. I mean, if you keep people out they can't hurt you can they! For me being divorced I'm adamant that I will never live with someone again and I will definitely never get married again and that, in a way, makes me sad as there are so many good people out there. I just don't think I can take that constant, chaotic, brain-destroying crap again. Anyway that's my choice and I at least have the possibility to make that decision.  I know you should never say "never again" but I'm pretty sure that's it for me. That being said, it's been kind of weird this past week or so how friends just seem to have appeared out of nowhere!

When I went to Sicily in September I palled up with a lady called Carol. On these "solos" holidays you always seem to hit it off with someone (in my case usually the first person at the bar I guess) but Carol has called me a couple of times and I have enjoyed chatting with her. I told her to let me get my Sri Lanka trip out of the way and my son's civil wedding in March and then she was more than welcome to come out here and stay with me. Now she lives near Gatwick airport and has told me I am more than welcome at her place any time. So another thing on my bucket list!

Then yesterday I got a message from Karon who I had met in St. Lucia two years ago. We hit it off like nobody's business but of course when you don't live in the same country and don't see each other regularly things tend to fade. She asked me if I had ever done a solo trip but not through a solos organization. Well I'm not sure what she meant exactly but I told her I had done one totally solo trip to Morocco but that I didn't enjoy it that much as I like company. I was in Marrakech, which I loved but also travelled to the Atlas mountains, where those two young Scandinavian girls had recently been murdered!!! So, for myself, while I love my trips, I enjoy them more when I have company. I don't have to know anyone ahead of time - I just want to be sure that I won't be alone. In fact Costa Rica this year was with a travel group that wasn't solos-oriented but there were only six of us on the trip and it was a blast! Anyway, Karon and I decided that we should get together.  I invited her out here and she said if I wanted to come "her way" I would be  more than welcome and maybe we could invite Mo. It was weird really because after that trip I know six of them went off to Spain together and I told her that while I liked everyone on that trip it was only her and Mo that I would like to keep in touch with. So you know what, I hope she does come out here and I will definitely make the effort to spend more time in the UK and catch up with her and Mo.

Then back in 2010, after my husband had buggered off, I met Brian on my first solos trip and we have stayed in touch ever since 2010. Actually he has been out here twice and never, ever forgets my birthday and always sends me a Christmas card. He is an absolute gent. There was nothing "untoward" in that relationship, just another good friendship! Then I met Steve on my trip to Peru and we have stayed friends ever since. He, also, has been out here twice and I stayed with him in August of 2018. Maybe there is something wrong with me - why do I have to go finding friends so far away? Well actually I'm not totally anti-social to be honest but I guess, over time, I do crave the Brit sense of humour and so tend to look that way for friendship, although I have dear, dear friends here in France of course! I guess the problem is (a) the language, although I am fluent in French of course, but (b) I really, really love the British sense of humour. It is so totally different to the French (or any other sense of humour I guess)! Not better or worse, just different! Anyway, on our first night in Lima an ambulance went past and somebody cracked the "Eric Morecambe" joke and we all roared laughing!

Then yesterday I got a message from Marilyn, a dear friend from ages ago. We met when my ex and I moved into France in 1990. Marilyn is American and her husband was French so we instantly hit it off. Our kids were about the same age so we used to go skiing together and socialize. About 20 years ago they moved down to Chambéry and from there on to the US where her husband had been head-hunted. Only problem was, the day the moving company showed up to pack their stuff, Philippe was told that his job offer was rescinded! It was a cut-throat business and par for the course I guess. So that left her with a French husband already installed in the US without a green card but relying on his job to get one. She was a stay-at-home mom so not much use in that direction. So no green card, no medical insurance and what the hell do you do next!!!! In the end Philippe got another job, Marilyn also, and they made it but the stress must have been horrendous. Sadly Philippe got sick, ended up having a liver transplant, had a heart attack, I believe, and died about five years ago. In the meantime, her daughter married and moved to London and her son was transferred to Cork in Ireland so, as a newly-minted French national, she followed her son out to Ireland. She's not particularly happy there. "If you like baked beans you're well set" as while the people are lovely it's not exactly Dublin is it! Anyway she got in touch with me yesterday and we are going to meet up. Either I will go to Ireland or she will come here. So I guess I do make friends really, just not exactly "pop next door type"!

And finally, my friend and I finally got to see Bohemian Rhapsody yesterday. I wanted to wait a few weeks (four I think) after it came out so it wouldn't be so crowded but yet again the cinema was virtually full! To say we loved it would be an understatement! At one point I became aware of C blubbing and had to go fishing for paper hankies in my bag as he was starting to drip. But by gosh that was a lovely film. I really hope Rami Malek wins an oscar for his performance (the buck teeth not withstanding) as he was brilliant. Actually I can't believe he is 37 - he looks about 17 - but I saw him interviewed on the Graham Norton show and what a lovely young man he is! Good luck Rami!

Saturday 5 January 2019

Have to dash to North Wales!

Well I guess it was the news we were all dreading but my brother has been confirmed as having terminal cancer, with maybe between one and three months to live! I spoke to my nephew yesterday and he said one month would be generous in his opinion. My brother has lost so much weight that his legs can no longer support his weight to go to the bathroom, and there wasn't much of him to begin with. So I have booked a flight to Liverpool on Tuesday where my nephew will meet me and we will catch the train to Conwy. At the moment Phil is in Bangor Hospital but they are hoping to move him shortly to St. David's Hospice in Llandudno. My sister, her husband and my other brother are driving up there on Tuesday also so hopefully Phil will hang on. He's not in pain, which is a blessing. I guess they have him so drugged up. He is still lucid but "drifts" a little now. Oh my gosh, I'm in such shock. I know people get old, people get sick and even young people get sick and die and life isn't fair. But it's just the shock of how fast this has happened that has knocked me for six. He has never been ill and never been to hospital. He used to work in the fish market as a young man in Birmingham's Bull Ring market when it was still outdoors and I guess that made him pretty sturdy - working outside in all weathers with his hands in the freezing ice! Who knows! My daughter-in-law said that it's sad that so many - men in particular - never go for a check-up, but while women kinda have to go for various check-ups, Phil had never been ill so had no reason to go for one I guess. Either way it's too late now. As I said, my shock stems from the fact that he only got sick mid-December so we're looking at about five weeks now!

My youngest son and gf can't go because they have both started new jobs (well Jen starts a new job on Monday in fact). That's ok by all of us as we believe what counts is how you treat people when they are alive and not when they are dying. My oldest son and his wife are hoping to fly in next weekend to see him so that will be nice for most of the family to be together. I contacted Steve to let him know yesterday and he said after my initial visit with my brother to let him know and he will drive down from Southport to meet up. It's only about an hour away and I was hoping to go and see Steve before he goes in for his bone marrow transplant. That is planned for mid-February, I think, and since he is off the chemo I don't feel nervous about being around him so much since I know he has to steer clear of crowds and their germs!

My brother's lady friend, Margaret, has been an absolute rock and is staying at his place in order to visit him every day. She lives about 120 miles away so that is the best solution for everyone. I will stay at my brother's place since I am on my own and there is a spare bed there, but I will happily sleep on the floor if necessary or get a B&B. It doesn't matter to me either way, but my nephew thought it would be a good idea for me to keep Margaret company. We have never met in person as yet - kind of a sad way to meet up for the first time isn't it! Phil and Margaret had booked a holiday to Cyprus for February and were planning on coming out to me after that for a long week-end. She will still be welcome of couse but …. All I can say is I have never seen my brother as happy as he has been these last two years with her and for that we can never thank her enough!

The only saving grace in all this is as I am retired I don't have to worry about work! Thank God! My nephew is flitting back and forth between his work in Manchester and his dad in Conwy. His work have been very good, apparently, but it is always a worry. I have only booked a one-way ticket at this point but will take the lie of the land after I see my brother.

I felt a bit weepy yesterday, although, as always, I don't seem able to cry. So in the end I put my big girl's knickers on and took myself off for a walk. Felt much better for it afterwards of course. I took the route I took previously through the grounds of the Eglise de la Bénite Fontaine (the Church of the Blessed Fountain) so I thought I would stop and fill my water bottle with holy water. Now I don't know what good me drinking holy water would do for my brother but it was strangely comforting.  I don't know if I will be able to post much for a while but I aim on taking my laptop with me as I still have a ton of stuff to sort out from my retirement and I suspect there will be a few quiet hours too.  So for the time being, I will sign off.

The view of the Mont Blanc from my walk - so comforting and peaceful!

Phil and me at les Confins, May 2017

Wednesday 2 January 2019

Sod's law!

If I had been returning to work, today would have been my first day back. Just as well I wasn't then eh because when I went out this morning to get into my car the battery didn't even attempt a splutter. It was so stone cold dead I think rigor mortis had already set in! Bloody hell, can you imagine, first day back and I have to call my boss and say "you'll never believe what's happened now"! I was routinely late most days due to traffic, and no, you could never get ahead of it by leaving 30 minutes earlier and 30 minutes earlier again - the traffic was always bloody atrocious! We had flexible-ish hours, thank God, but I just never made it in at the time I was aiming for. Don't get me wrong, I never minded staying later if necessary either because it's swings and round abouts isn't it, but when my bloody car wouldn't start this morning I could have cried. It had only been one day where I hadn't driven it so as far as I was concerned it should have been ok but there was nothing doing. My neighbour saw me getting out my charger and hooking it up to the electric but two hours later it hadn't moved. In the meantime he went and got his charger to see if that made any difference but no doing! Then he managed to drive up on my front garden to get level with my car and we tried jumping it but nope, still no doing!

Thankfully I am a member of the Touring Club Suisse (like the British RAC or the American AAA) and always have been. Thankfully, also, I always keep my subscription up-to-date and had recently renewed it effective 1 January - only to need to use it on 2 January! So I called the TCS and explained to the lady that I would need a tow truck but not necessarily this evening as my car was in my driveway and I wasn't going anywhere. She said somebody would call me within 10 minutes so I waited and waited and at about 30 minutes I wondered what was happening - when just then there was a knock at the door and there was my knight in shining armour with his trusty tow truck! It took him all of about 10 minutes to jump my battery with his powerful truck-grade battery - phew, that was a relief. You know how your mind immediately goes "oh bugger, I'm going to need a new car and I've just left a good job" (or is that just me?) but once I get my thoughts together I know I can sort everything out - I just didn't particularly want to sort it out tonight in the freezing cold. In the meantime, I had been calling Ford repeatedly and their answering machine kept telling me that all their lines were busy. In the end, knowing their small garage well, I figured they were still on Christmas vacation and hadn't gotten round to changing their answering machine message, which turned out to be correct, as later confirmed by the tow truck driver. That being the case, I then called a local franchise garage, Norauto, who were open and dashed down there with just one hour to spare before closing time. They were brilliant, got my car in and the battery changed all within the space of 40 minutes and with a smile too - that's not something you get every day! But credit where credit is due, I posted my thanks on the FB page of both the TCS and Norauto giving credit for their efficiency!

I did have plans to drop in at work today to exchange my badge for a retiree badge, pay for next year's subscription to the work's gym and then head off out to the computer shop to buy a cable I needed before meeting my friend to go and see Bohemian Rhapsody! As you can imagine that all went tits up (forgive my French) but at least my car is sorted!

And then this evening on my FB feed someone had posted the following photo of an accident on the motorway where I would have needed to pass on my way home. So first day back and I would have been stuck in another accident! Damn, the relief that I am retired is tangible!