Things I’ve done: the apple strudel incident

Two years after we’d gotten married, my beloved and I were living in a Barratt built bungalow to the north of Leicester. It was a two-bedroomed bungalow, though I used the second bedroom as a dining room. This meant we gave guests our double-bed and slept in the lounge or, in the case of my youngest sister Jane, she slept on a put-u-up in the lounge.

When my beloved and I got married, I was still at university. We bought a one-bedroomed maisonette in Leicester, from whence I commuted to University at Loughborough, which 18 months later we sold to our upstairs’ neighbour. We moved across town to a new Barratt development of bungalows and town houses, next to a squash club and small shopping centre, which was a much easier commute for both of us.

My youngest sister Jane has always adored my beloved and was a fairly frequent week-end visitor. We’d driven into Leicester to pick up some Apple Strudel for Saturday evening’s dessert from an excellent patisserie called Elizabeth’s, which is probably no longer there. My beloved dropped me off with just enough money to buy the strudel and said he’d pick me up from the nearby taxi rank.

Leicester used to have, and probably still does, a complicated one-way system so I wasn’t unduly disturbed not to finding him waiting for me at the taxi rank. 45 minutes later  – remember this is in the late 70s, well before the advent of mobiles – when I was cold and cursing him under my breathe, my sister popped up. They’d been waiting for me in the slip road behind the taxi rank and I hadn’t seen them, nor had they seen me, because they were behind a coach!

I got into the car and my beloved called me a silly cow for not waiting in the right place. I was swift to point out that if anyone was in the wrong place, it wasn’t me and smashed the apple strudel into his face. There was what might be called a pregnant pause then my sister in the back seat, said: “So, no dessert!”

My beloved had been wearing a beige coloured anorak at the time of the apple strudel attack which I took into our local dry cleaners to have cleaned. On collecting it, the owner asked me how it came to be covered in apple strudel. I admitted that I’d thrown it at him and the owner said: “That’s what the wife thought!”

I’ve never thrown anything more at my beloved largely because it was such a colossal waste of a lovely dessert. Similarly, he’s never again called me rude names. Also, I now never leave the car without my coat, handbag and the house keys. You could say that we both learnt a powerful lesson that day.

 

 

Orange hell

Having been away for over a month, it was good to have a few days on my own to tackle the inevitable pile of work, including housework, which had built up during our absence. It was all going splendidly. I’d invoiced everyone; cleared the administrative backlog; I had washed, ironed and put away all our holiday clothes; I’d cleaned and vacuumed; and, was starting to feel all was well in my world, until the internet went down.

It was 22:00 so I rebooted and got the internet back but the WiFi didn’t work, at all. Hoping matters would resolve themselves overnight, I went to bed. Sadly, there was no change the following morning. I have Orange Pro which promises to sort out any problems within 24 hours. I rang my local techies whose help desk number I’d gotten while we were having the WiFi service extended (at great expense) and left a message on their answer phone. Not a good sign. As I was still within my three-month guarantee period, I also rang the installers, who are yet another branch of Orange.

Unfortunately, while the installers were very helpful, they didn’t have any technicians available until Monday. However, they were going to contact the local techies to try to organise something for either this afternoon or, at worst, tomorrow morning! This saved me from going through the Orange system where the likelihood of speaking to another human being is under 10% I promised not to leave the premises.

I was just grateful that I didn’t have to cope with my beloved who goes apocalyptic when the WiFi goes down. It fortunately doesn’t happen too often and I always have to deal with the fall out.

I have learnt that the best way to deal with these situations is plenty of deep breathing to maintain my cool. I work on the basis they’re more likely to help the polite ones rather than angry customers. I could be wrong, but that’s what I’d do. Meanwhile, what’s a girl to do without any internet?

Of course, I’d already tackled all the obvious jobs and it was now way too hot to think about cleaning out the cupboards on the terrace, or indeed cleaning the terrace or the windows. Jobs best saved for when the mercury dips well below 30C. I couldn’t even catch up on the television programmes I’d missed while away, or watch current programmes, because our service is delivered – yes, you’ve guessed it – via the internet.

I looked on my very long list of “to do” jobs and they either all required the internet or it was far too hot to undertake them. I didn’t even have a good book to read, though I suppose I could continue cataloguing my ever-growing collection of cookery books. In the end I decide to catch up with an old friend and then have lunch. I had intended to go food shopping this morning so it was slim pickins’ but I manage to pull together a salad.

During lunch, the help desk rings to say a technician will be with me this afternoon. I break out the bunting. After lunch I go into the office and once more reboot the WiFi, more in hope than expectation, and it works. Hurrah, I’m back in the land of the living. The technician who was going to visit rings to say he’ll monitor my line from afar and visit if there are any further problems. He confirms there was an issue with the WiFi for the whole town from last night, but it has now been resolved. Well, that’s a relief. My Orange hell was nowhere near as bad as anticipated and I had used the down time wisely.

Holiday photos: day 14

We were in the Basque country which I always say is green for a reason! The day after France’s triumph in the World Cup final, the heavens opened. It wasn’t cold, but it did pour down. We watched the rain battering the hotel, which is adjacent to the beach, from the warmth of the surprisingly quiet Thalasso Spa. Goodness knows where the other guests had gone.

On a day totally bereft of any sporting action, what were we to do? There’s only so long you can enjoy the Spa facilities before you wrinkle like a prune. Fortunately we were able to grab a few walks in between the showers for which we were fully prepared with umbrellas and anoraks. You can take the Brit out of Britain, but old habits die hard and all that………

Salvation came in the form of a report from Paris showing the incredible parade of the World Cup victors in their open top bus progressed along the Champs Elysees, before  a reception at the Elysee Palace with family, friends and M Le Pres. Wonderful scenes in the garden of the Palais as the players and Macron  mingled with hordes of children all eager for autographs and selfies. It’s been a wonderful three-day celebration for France.

Holiday photos: day 8

Our trip to Bordeaux did not get off to an auspicious start as we were delayed by traffic jams caused by roadworks and accidents. I had booked a small, charming, B&B that had excellent ratings on booking.com for the next five nights. I had some slight concern as I’d been unable to contact them to reserve either a parking spot or advise them of our late arrival.

Our plan had been to arrive well before the start of the France v Belgium game and then head out to see Lenny Kravitz who was in town. Well, the best laid plans and all that saw us arrive at the B&B at half-time, after listening to the match commentary on the radio, only to find no one was home. We again tried to contact them to no avail and finally found another small hotel nearby for the night.

We watched the last 15 minutes of the game and then the hotel owner broke out the bubbles – how nice! I sent a few pithy emails of complaint to booking.com and we decided not to book another hotel until we’d slept on it. After an exceedingly good night’s sleep we decided to stay on at the small hotel for a couple of days. I hope Lenny wasn’t too disappointed that we were “no shows.”

Postscript: Chapeau to booking.com: profuse apologies plus offer to reimburse us for any additional costs.

I don’t like Mondays

“I Don’t Like Mondays” is an old song by Irish band The Boomtown Rats about the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego. My Monday wasn’t bad enough to take such measures though I’m just going to vent a bit here and then I know I’ll feel much better.

I don’t mind Mondays usually but the one last week started badly and just got worse. We had a flight back from Barcelona and wanted to get to the airport early as my beloved had received an email from BA advising the flight had been cancelled. However, checking the airport site, all seemed well but, just to be on the safe side, we wanted to be timely.

We woke at 04:00am, an ungodly hour at the best of times, and drove swiftly to the airport using Google maps on my iPad. The hire car office wasn’t open, so we dropped off the keys and the duly annotated booking paperwork in the letterbox provided and proceeded to departures where all hell appeared to have broken loose.

Our airline uses DIY labeling and printing of boarding passes. We managed to navigate the tortuous procedure but others were not so fortunate. We were soon thankfully seated eating breakfast in the lounge. We could only assume that the email had been some sort of computer glitch at BA. They’ve had a few of those recently. As we boarded the bus for the plane I reached into my bag for my iPhone to put it on “flight mode.” It wasn’t there!

I visualised what I’d done with it after I’d last used it and could clearly see myself switching off the Google route nap and putting it into its pocket in my bag. I also recalled hearing a metallic clang as I got out of the car but, at the time, had dismissed it as the seat belt springing back into place. It probably wasn’t. It was more likely my phone falling from my bag and into the well of the passenger seat. I tried ringing the hire car company while on the bus but the office was still closed.

I contacted the company as soon as we landed, after successfully navigating their answering system. Press the wrong button at your peril! I was advised by the call centre that they’d email the hire car office in the airport and get back to me shortly. Two calls later in the day and I’d been twice advised that the procedure was to get back in touch with the customer within the hour.

It was now well past any deadline so I decided to cancel my phone which you can only do on-line but there was a problem with the system and, despite my best efforts, nothing happened. I tried ringing Orange which has an automatic answering system whose main goal is to prevent you talking to any humans and I was quickly going round and round in circles, orange ones.

My beloved sensing I was on the edge of a precipice kindly suggested dinner out. A large glass of chilled rose, a generous salad and I was feeling much better. Still no word from the hire car company but my beloved had received confirmation of my line cancellation. An early night followed as we were off to Amsterdam the following morning. I decided to email the hire car company in my very best Spanish. Twice. Still no reply.

My phone is insured so I can get a replacement but I need the hire car company to confirm they can’t find it. Given that I know where I misplaced it, if they can’t find it, has it been stolen? In which case, I’ll need to contact the Spanish police, report the theft and get a reference number for it.

Finally, today I sent an email of complaint to Avis HQ and received an automated response – progress. I have peered into my crystal ball and I foresee a possibly frustrating trip to the Orange shop. Start praying for me now!

Things I’ve done: drank way too much Sangria

We’ve all been there! Drank way too much and lived to regret it. I should add this incident occurred back in the late 70s while on vacation in southern Spain staying at my parents first apartment. The memory was triggered by reading that Kenny Dalglish had been knighted in the Queen’s birthday honours. There’s a connection, I’ll explain.

My parents had just agreed to buy a second apartment, this one was in a prime position overlooking the beach. During the two weeks we were on vacation in Spain, the developer of the second apartment threw a party to which we were invited. It was a mid-afternoon cocktail party and Sangria was on offer. I’d had it before and it was mostly red wine watered down with soda water and orange juice. It was a warm afternoon and the drinks just kept on coming.

There had also been a large amount of spirits on offer but no body was drinking that so the bar staff just poured it into the Sangria. It’s taste was masked by the fruit and fruit juice and it’s effect muted as we were all sitting down in the shade.

During the afternoon, we’d gotten chatting to another couple who’d also purchased a property. The wife turned to me and asked if we’d met Kenny Dalglish who was staying on the development with his family? I said “No!” but was contradicted by my beloved who reminded me of an incident earlier that day when I’d turned abruptly in the supermarket and had sent some wee chap flying. My beloved had realized as he’d helped the unfortunate chap to his feet, that I’d knocked over none other than King Kenny, then at the height of his powers playing for Liverpool FC.

As an aside, it just shows you how footballers remuneration has changed. Kenny was renting an apartment for his family (and mother) just outside of Marbella. Today, he’d either have his own multi-million pound pad or at least be renting a suite of rooms at the Marbella Club. But I digress………..

As we left the party I was swaying on my feet and admittedly not feeling too good (huge British understatement) so decided to go back to the flat. My beloved said I was wandering all over the place and that it was a miracle I didn’t fall into the pool though that may have sobered me up. I woke the next morning, vowing never to drink Sangria again – and I haven’t –  to find the room was still spinning. I didn’t reappear until very early the following morning when I went down to the pool to watch my beloved swimming laps in the empty pool.

There was an elderly lady sitting in the shade beside the pool. We struck up a conversation, she had a strong Glaswegian accent, and she told me she much admired my beloved’s athletic prowess and had watched him swim most mornings while on holiday with her son and his family. It was none other than Kenny’s mum which I found somewhat amusing. My beloved confirmed she’d been beside the pool most mornings with her knitting. This is not the first (or last) time my beloved has had an elderly groupie!

 

A letter to Mr Sunshine

Dear Mr Sunshine

Level with me, what’s up? You’ve been conspicuous by your absence this year and, as we hurtle towards mid-year, I’d like to remind you that we’re supposed to enjoy 300 days of your presence each and every year. We’ve seen way too much of Mr Rain and Mr Cloud!

Don’t blame Global Warning! I’m not doing a Donald, but surely we’d be enjoying more sunshine and less rain if that were the case. Or is this payback for last year’s fabulous spring, summer and autumn? It comes to something when the weather in recent months has been better in the UK, a country we fled for France’s temperate climes, fine culture and charming natives. Please also bear in mind that my sisters hold me to account for the weather. If clouds mar any of their many vacations it’s a disaster of epic proportions!

My neighbours have been reminiscing and have concluded that it’s the worst spring ever. I’ve only lived here for 13 years so can’t comment other than to say it’s been the wettest, less sunny spring since we arrived. Even the farmers are saying they’ve had enough rain and need more sunshine or the fruit and vegetables will start to rot, pushing prices sky-high. Now, you know how the French love to complain about the price of fruit and veg!

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining. Everything is so lush, green and verdant. We’ve had to employ extra gardeners to cope with the grass. No sooner have they mowed one spot than it has shot up again, seemingly overnight. Our 50m pool opened finally the last week-end in May but it has been closed, thanks to stormy weather, more days than it has been open.

My beloved is getting antsy. He won’t ride if rain is likely – we don’t need any more broken bones – nor is he getting his daily swim. You’re playing havoc with my riding too. I really don’t expect to spend time on the home trainer in June!

I’ve checked the forecast and there’s little prospect of much improvement. Thank goodness we’re off to Spain next week-end (Catalunya MotoGP) which is currently promising wall-to-wall sunshine. Don’t forget I live in an area whose economy relies heavily on tourism, frankly this isn’t helping. Typically we should be enjoying plenty of sunshine, dry weather in the daytime, with temperatures in the mid-20s. Please get it sorted!

Yours sincerely

A concerned sun lover

 

Happy Families

It’s been a busy week or so in the Domaine, starting with European Neighbours’ Day. We generally have a get together down at the club house. Drinks are provided and attendees have to bring the food. I always pride myself on taking something homemade though I’ve noted more and more of my neighbours opt for something they’ve bought. Consequently, I find that whatever I take disappears in nano seconds.

Vegan banana cake
Vegan brownies with fresh raspberries and pistachios

Our 50 metre pool also opened last week-end, so my beloved has been powering up and down either first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Although it’s only for the use of residents who are club members, you can buy tickets for family and friends to use the pool too. I half-suspect that pool was the main reason my beloved was so keen on buying the apartment, that and the view.

With temperatures picking up we’ve starting eating out on the terrace. It’s still too chilly at breakfast but we’ve enjoyed lunch, pre-dinner cocktails and dinner enjoying the view. In addition,  we’ve been royally entertained by a pair of magpies who’ve been building a nest in the evergreen closest to our kitchen. We’d thought the rooks/crows/big blackbirds had consigned the magpies to another part of the Domaine. But evidently not this pair, who’ve established and have been enforcing a four tree exclusion zone around their newly constructed nest.

Nest on high in apex of tree

Magpies usually lay eggs in early April, it’s now six weeks later. Although they’ve made a smashing job of the nest, we only see them on it in the early morning, the rest of the time it’s unoccupied. So it’s clearly not being used for the purpose for which it was intended. Hatching their young.

This week we’ve seen them chase off the squirrel – we wondered what had happened to him – and one of the large blackbirds, but we’re at a loss to understand why. It’s at times like these I wish my Mum were still around, she was a fount of knowledge about flora and fauna.

My beloved believes it’s a decoy and the real nest is somewhere else. Frankly, I’m not so sure that both Mum and Dad would leave the real nest completely unoccupied in the morning. However, the presence of the magpies means I’ve had no large birds landing on and, more importantly, pooping on my terrace.

My beloved enjoying the garden

Like us the wildlife but have become a bit discombobulated by the weather. We’ve had a very wet spring and typically June sees warm temperatures with sunshine every day, and no rain. It’s not that it’s chilly, far from it. Overnight temperatures are remaining high. I’ve stored the Hungarian goose-down duvet until next winter and we’re using our summer weight one with linen bedclothes. Even so, my beloved has been overheating. Could this be the problem with our lovebirds? Have they opted to live apart?

I think they’ve built the nest for one of their offspring who’s refusing to move out. Probably enjoys having his food delivered to him too much and doesn’t keep his room tidy – you know the sort of thing. His parents have had enough and have made him alternative lodgings.

Over the week-end the magpies have been conspicuous by their absence. I suspect they’ve been checking out the tat at our annual “Vide Grenier” – French equivalent of a car boot sale. Please don’t for one moment imagine that this is the place to pick up a second-hand Hermès bag or scarf or maybe some delightful bric à brac or shabby chic furniture. No, this is stuff that rightly belongs down at the tip but people are far too lazy to take it there.

Bizarrely, these are hugely popular affairs and there’s any number which are held weekly. I have this theory about everyone’s rubbish continuously just doing the rounds at these events before, finally, ending up at the dump or in a recycling bin!

People watching

Is there anything better than sitting down with a nice hot or cold drink, depending on the season, and indulging in a spot of people watching? My beloved and I adore – okay it’s mostly me –  speculating on the nationality, profession and reasons why other people are inhabiting the same space as us.

When I was a kid, I had NO shame. I would go over and ask. Of course, when you’re a cute kid – and I was cute –  you can get away with this. In fact, totally unprompted and uninvited, I would sit down and subject the person or persons who were the object of my speculation to a barrage of questions. I don’t remember anyone refusing to respond, ever.

I’ll be honest, as I’ve grown older, little has changed. I loved auditing lots of different companies because I could legitimately ask them loads of questions in the course of my work. Also, I could tell you loads about everyone who worked with me but I know the reverse wouldn’t have been the case. They’d have told you I was married, had worked for the company for x years, supported Aston Villa and then they’d have struggled. They might’ve said I was a good boss, a good listener, someone who “walked the talk, ” who knows?

Nowadays I exercise my endless curiosity interviewing fit, young, guys and gals who cycle. But, to be honest, no one is safe. Sit next to me at dinner and you’ll leave having had an enjoyable time. I’ll know pretty much all there is to know about you, while you’ll know very little about me. You’ll have been hacked without even realising it. The upside is it will’ve cost you nothing.

It’s not that I’m deliberately coy, I do write a blog after all.  It’s just that as well as being able to talk the hind leg off a donkey, I’m a very good listener. I lean in, ask a leading question and then nod encouragingly. It NEVER fails. My husband often says he feels sorry for my victims. “Victims?” I like to think of them as willing participants. After all, who doesn’t love talking about themselves?

Of course, I’ve had to restrain myself. I can’t go round accosting strangers and asking them all manner of questions, hence the endless speculation. However, as I get even older, I plan on becoming a sweet, determined, eccentric old dear who asks anyone, anything she wants. There’s got to be some benefits to being elderly!

I’m not on holiday, I’m working!

One of my sisters bought this cushion which says: “Happiness is having a large loving family…..in another city!” So true –  although to be on the safe side, we’re in another country –  and never more so than the past couple of weeks while that sister has been over here on an extended vacation. She’s not staying with me (thank heavens) but is just down the road in our old holiday flat which she and her husband from us over 10 years ago.

One of the biggest problems of living (and working) on the Cote d’Azur is that when people come to visit, as they inevitably do, they’re on holiday. Furthermore, they tend to presume that you’re on holiday too. In fact, they think you’re on holiday all the time!

The worst offenders are my family, specifically this sister and her husband. When they first bought the apartment from us,  I offered to lend them a helping hand until they’d become accustomed to the way things worked in France. Sadly, because Big Sis is always available, neither of them ever bothers to sort out anything on their own. To add insult to injury, they rarely bother to follow my advice and then wonder why things go wrong. Nor have they tried to learn much French in that time, relying instead on me to translate everything.

This past week my beloved was on a business trip and I was looking forward to time on the bike and tackling my clients’ projects. Unfortunately, I’ve spent several days sorting out my sister’s ill-fated attempt to buy stuff over the internet. The last time she did this I had to accept delivery of her bed head after she’d returned home, and then pay to have it taken down to her apartment!

This time she bought a number of bedside tables so that she can finally return the ones I lent her over 10 years ago. Needless to say they are no longer in a pristine condition and I’ll have to pay to get them restored. Initially, she complained about having to wait in all morning for a delivery and had me chasing it up. I managed to persuade the delivery man to take the package up to her apartment. They typically drop off at the door to apartment blocks.

She signed for the delivery, noting that she’d not unpacked and checked it before the carrier left, as I advised. The box was damaged and so was one of the bedside tables. I immediately notified the vendor and subsequently sent photos showing the damage. Initially, she wanted to return both but has now decided to keep the one that’s undamaged. This has generated a flurry of emails which I have had to translate and then craft her response.

The other bedside tables she’d ordered cannot be delivered while she’s still over here. I don’t want to accept delivery, just in case she doesn’t like them, so we’re attempting to cancel the order on the basis that the delivery is taking a month longer than indicated when she placed the order. More emails, more translations.

I had hoped that buying stuff over the internet would avoid the necessity to go shopping with her – my idea of hell. However, now that I’ve resolved the problem with the bedside tables she’s moved onto lighting. Asking if I could take her to places that sell lighting. My sister fails to appreciate that unlike her I don’t regard shopping as a leisure activity. I’ve suggested a couple of places she can visit but I am so not going with her. Trouble is she only has the car for a couple more days and doesn’t do public transport.

I can only thank my lucky stars that I’m off to Paris while she’s on her own for a week pending the arrival of one of her friends for the final week of her (far too long) vacation. Also, thank goodness they bought their own apartment otherwise they’d be staying with me, expecting me to wait on them hand and foot and, while we might not have to worry about bedside tables, I’m quite sure there would be something else.