Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things about France that surprised me: French driving

After falling to a historic low in 2018, road deaths in France started to increase dramatically at the start of this year. The French government blamed January’s steep rise fairly and squarely on the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement during which some 60% of speed cameras on France’s roads were vandalised or put out of action leading to worsening driving habits.
More worryingly for cyclists, the government’s safety body Securite Routiere added:

Cyclist mortality is the highest recorded for the last 10 years.

In 2018, 3,259 people died on French roads, down from 3,448 in 2017 and an historic record low which the French government said vindicated the controversial lowering of the speed limit on secondary roads to 80kmh from 90kmh though the speed limit change as well as speed cameras in general proved one of the main sources of anger among the gilets jaunes.

These figures might surprise you but not, if like me, you drive (and cycle) in France. Here’s my slightly tongue-in-cheek advice about driving here. I always tell people to “Expect the unexpected” on French roads.

1 – getting going

No self-respecting French person drives anywhere without the obligatory accessories – a mobile phone clamped firmly to the ear and a lit cigarette. They’ll then totally skip the  whole pesky “mirror, signal, maneouvre” going straight to manoeuvre without glancing in any of their vehicle’s mirrors. They’ll often have “lost” one wing mirror driving too closely to something and the in-car mirror is, of course, only for putting on one’s lipstick.

2 – road etiquette

You should always drive within two metres of the vehicle in front, especially if you are driving a white van. This normally intimidates the other driver into going faster. If this fails, execute the overtaking manoeuvre (see 5 below). If another vehicle flashes you in anger, hold up the middle finger of your right hand in response. Always warn oncoming drivers of a police radar trap by flashing (strictly illegal). Never fail to exercise your priorité à droite* rights, even in front of foreign-registered cars whose drivers probably don’t understand. Also, never stop to let anyone out of a side road.

Always choose the lane with the least number of vehicles. If that’s the outside lane and you’re turning right at the roundabout, no matter, just sail with impunity across the bows of the cars in the middle and inside lanes as though you have some God-given right.

*A rule which gives priority to drivers emerging into a major road from a minor one without a ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ sign. In that case, oncoming traffic on the major road is obliged to give way.

3 – use of indicators

Indicators are an unnecessary luxury and are simply part of some crackpot government scheme designed to constrain la liberté. You are particularly advised against using indicators at roundabouts, when executing a u-turn and when pulling in to the side to park. It is up to your fellow-drivers to be vigilant. Don’t be fooled if someone is indicating, they probably just knocked the indicator when reaching for the cigarette lighter.

4 – motorway driving

On a three-lane motorway, always drive in the middle lane, even if the right-hand lane is clear of traffic. Disdainfully ignore traffic that starts overtaking you on the inside. When approaching the péage, waver between lanes without indicating until you have determined which queue you wish to join. If you miss your turn off, don’t worry. You can pull over onto the hard shoulder and reverse back!

5 – overtaking

The ideal conditions for overtaking are at a blind corner with a solid white line in the middle of the road, preferably going uphill. To execute this manoeuvre, drive as closely as possible to the vehicle in front, pull out (without indicating, naturally) then pull in sharply in front of it – a queue de poisson (fish tail) – to avoid the oncoming juggernaut.

6 – speed limits

The speed limits are there to be broken, except where there is one of those irritating automatic radar machines that have sprung up like mushrooms). In particular, you should ignore the 50kph speed limit in towns and villages. Old ladies, small kiddies and domestic pets mown down in your wake frankly should be more careful.

7 – use of the horn

The horn is there to admonish other road users as frequently and as noisily as possible. Its use is obligatory when the vehicle in front hesitates for more than a nano-second at a green traffic light, when the person in front of you at the péage fumbles their change, when the combination of a cyclist and traffic calming measures means you cannot overtake said cyclist, cyclists riding more than one abrest and when another driver holds you up as they reverse into a parking space. It should also be used liberally when someone has casually parked thereby blocking your entrance or exit.

8 – pedestrian crossings

Never stop for a pedestrian on a crossing unless they are at least halfway across. More than three people constitutes a case of force majeure, in which case you are regretfully obliged to give way. Once they are across, gun the accelerator and speed off with squealing tires to indicate your frustration.

9 – greeting friends

When you see a friend walking along the street, greet them with a long burst of the horn. You should stop if possible in the middle of the road and carry on a conversation with them regardless of the traffic building up behind.

10 – parking

When the parking space in a busy street is not long enough, simply drive onto the pavement, preferably obstructing it for pedestrians. At the supermarket, always park across two spaces, especially when it is busy. If that’s not possible, park anywhere there’s a space, even if it then prevents someone else from exiting or entering (see 7 above). Feel free to park in cycle lanes, on roundabouts and frankly wherever you can abandon the vehicle. The key word here being “abandon.”

The French hate paying for parking and will do anything they can to avoid paying, though, to be fair, they never use car parking spaces allocated to the handicapped, but that may have something to do with the very large fine! Additionally, they prefer to park right outside their destination and will hover endlessly waiting for a space to become free. When it does, they’re like heat-seeking missiles. Never attempt to park in a space that someone else has bagged unless you want to experience some French road rage!

I could never understand why the car park of my local supermarket was always full while the shop was empty until I realised, it’s free parking. People park there to visit someone at the nearby hospital ,which only has paid parking, to catch a train from the nearby station (again only paid parking) or when shopping at the nearby mall (free car parking for 3 hours only!).

If you follow these 10 rules assiduously, you cannot fail to be accepted as a true French driver.

As I said above, this is all tongue in cheek, although in some cases I am only stretching the truth a little bit – the use of indicators is a case in point. Apologies to the many French drivers who don’t do any of the above. Please note: I’m not suggesting that the British, or indeed any other nation, are any better.

 

In praise of charm

One of the things I love about the French is that almost all of them are naturally charming and I’ve found the men to be incorrigible flirts, whatever their age. Let me explain further.

Last week I was waiting for yet another delivery. Typically the driver will call to check whether I’m home. If not, he  – it’s always a he – knows he can leave it at the security office at the entrance to the Domaine. On this occasion, I’d just missed his call and when I rang him back, he’d already dropped the box off with Security. I told him it wasn’t a problem and I’d pop down to collect it later. He then complimented me on my voice, I thanked him and was about to hang up when he asked whether we could have coffee together sometime.

Assuming he was joking, I laughed and said maybe, next time. We continued chatting and he then asked how old I was, to which I replied that you should never ask a lady her age but that I was probably a not dissimilar age to his mother. He was genuinely shocked but then enquired whether I was interested in a younger man. I laughed and said I’d put him on the list!

The list comprises a number of my cycling friends and acquaintances, many of them much younger, who’ve been impressed enough with my cooking to demand my hand in marriage. Easy to say when you know I’m already happily married, hence the list. Should anything ever happen to my beloved………………

Clearly, it’s not just M Macron who has a thing for older women. I should add that this is not a first for me. I’ve been chatted up by many a younger man, often while I’m out on my bike with my beloved riding a mere 500 metres ahead of me. One of my younger clubmates offered to come round and do any odd jobs that needed doing while my beloved was away on business. A girlfriend advised me he wasn’t really offering his services as a handyman which was a real shame as I so need one.

However, the situation was probably best summed up my beloved when a French colleague told him that he would never leave his wife home alone surrounded by Frenchmen for an extended period. Quick as a flash my beloved replied:

My wife likes men who are tall, blonde, with rippling muscles and who weigh more than her. I really don’t think I have anything to worry about, do you?

So true!

UK Mothering Sunday: Happy Mothers’ Day

Mother’s Day seems to be a bit of a moveable feast with it featuring on different months and days around the world. Not that I need to be concerned: I don’t have any kids, just the one big baby to look after.

My mother died some years ago so I don’t have to worry what to buy her to celebrate her special day, though she was an easy woman to buy presents for largely because she used to tell you what she’d like as a gift. She would say things like: “Your mother’s run out of her favourite body lotion.” Additionally, she never wanted a card because she felt they were a waste of money. She preferred us to spend more on her gift – no flies on her! My father famously would buy her a birthday card and use it for a number of years in succession.

In case you hadn’t guessed, in our household my father was the purchaser of all cards and gifts. My mother was however very generous. If you went out with her and saw something you liked, she would buy it for you. She saw no need to wait for your birthday or Christmas.

Getting married oh so many years ago and acquiring a mother-in-law, whom I refer to as the outlaw, meant I then had to buy two presents for Mothers’ Day. As you all know, my beloved is not good at either purchasing cards or presents. The outlaw’s present was always what you might call “nominal.”

Once my mother died, I advised my beloved that I would no longer buy the outlaw a Mother’s Day card or present, though would continue to purchase her birthday and Xmas presents. Consequently, the outlaw hasn’t received a Mother’s Day card since 2011. My beloved’s excuse is that Mothering Sunday in France is in May so he can’t buy her a card in March. This is despite his regular trips to UK.

My beloved is the apple of his mother’s eye and can do no wrong, ever. She has recently moved involuntarily into a very nice nursing home close to my beloved’s brother and sister-in-law. The burden of caring for the outlaw has fallen heavily on their shoulders in recent years and frankly this long overdue move will certainly lighten their load. She’s been adjudged unable to care for herself and was becoming a nuisance to the other residents in her apartment block.

To give his brother a helping hand, my beloved has taken charge of the disposal of her property. In reality, of course, this means I’m doing it. Fortunately, my beloved along with his brother and uncle holds the outlaw’s enduring Power of Attorney. Even more fortunate, it’s joint and several, meaning one of the attorneys can act on the others’ behalf.

Thanks to Money Laundering Regulations, professionals such as solicitors and estate agents need to “know their clients.” Typically this involves seeing original identity papers such as a passport and documents which confirm one’s address. Not a problem as my beloved was over in the UK last week and could visit the solicitor and estate agent in person. However, the uncle, who’s the outlaw’s younger brother, is in his mid-80s, lives in the west country and doesn’t possess a passport, driving licence or even a free bus pass.

My brother-in-law is fretting as to whether the outlaw has enough money to remain in the home until the end of her days. She’s 93, she’s got dementia, she’s probably got sufficient funds. Plus, it’s unlikely she’ll remember that today’s Mothering Sunday. I’m  not however completely heartless, I gave my beloved a small edible gift to give to her last week when he was in the UK.

 

 

The Food in France

Background

Is there any country more renowned for its food than France? French cuisine is arguably the most revered on earth – indeed the very word “cuisine” is French. Training in traditional French methods and cooking techniques is considered a core component of many a chef’s basic education, regardless of their country of origin.

The French have elevated food into an art form. Nowhere else on earth is so much attention paid to what people are going to eat and how they are going to eat it. The reasons are steeped in history but include the quality of ingredients and creativity of the chefs, the availability of incredible produce and simply, the love of good food.

Sharply dressed waiters, beautifully set tables with linen cloths and long, leisurely meals are the hallmarks of classic French dining, a culinary tradition that’s been the epitome of elegance for decades.

Can’t you just smell that bread?

From the simplest crusty baguette eaten with ripe brie to a beautiful lobster bisque or hearty beef bourguignon, France is heaven for any food lover. Or is it?

Slippery slope

Despite it being the international standard for haute cuisine, top French food critic Philippe Faure recently blasted the “lamentable” standard of cooking in France, and sadly I had to agree with him.

Thirty or 40 years ago you could cross the country stopping randomly every 20 kilometres and eat very well; there were good bistros everywhere. But that is no longer the case.

So does French cuisine still deserve to be held up as a gastronomic benchmark or is that all in the past? Does where you live in France make a difference to the food you eat? Or does it simply depend on how much money you have?

I talked to friends (French and non-French) who live all over France and they agreed that French food isn’t what it once was. Many labelled it boring and unimaginative, saying it’s rare to find anything different on restaurant menus. Those, like me, who live near to Italy say the food there is cheaper and better quality than in France. Although, if you spend a bit more on mid to luxury range French cuisine, then the quality improves. Worse still, and which chimes with my own experiences, some complained of patchy quality, with the risk of eating mediocre or inconsistent food running high.

How has this state of affairs come about? Well I’ve written about the French’s secret love affair with fast food (burgers and pizza) which is increasingly taking over its tables, largely due to the lack of time for a proper lunch and the arrival – and popularity – of online food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. And don’t even get me started on the French invented horror that is O’Tacos!

The figures don’t lie

These are the figures that reveal France’s growing love of fast food:

  • According to restaurant consultant Gira Conseil, fast food in France accounts for turnover of €54 billion. That’s more than half the total turnover of the €88 billion food service industry, meaning fast food accounts for more consumer spending than traditional restaurants.
  • €4.8 billion is the staggering 2017 figure (up 4% on the previous year) for the turnover for McDonald’s in France in 2017, the biggest in the whole of the restaurant industry. The turnover of the next largest group was a measly €1.7 billion.
  • According to French corporate services company Edenred, French employees get an average of 31 minutes for lunch. The much spoken of two hour lunch is a largely thing of the past for the majority of French employees, most people are looking for something that can be prepared and eaten as quickly as possible.
  • France has 32,000 fast food restaurants , with the number increasing rapidly due to growing demand.  The majority of these are burger joints, 2,100 of which belong to a chain.
  • On average consumers spend €9 on a fast food meal, revealing the French are not entirely sacrificing quality in the name of convenience.

So where and how can you find a good meal?

My husband claims that I’m like a truffle hound when it comes to finding good restaurants. I put this down to the training I received at my father’s knee.  So here are a few salient tips to steer you in the right direction:

  • Planning and Preparation: read plenty of blogs written by locals to suss out the best places to eat and make a reservation. If they’re good, tables will fill up fast. Look in particular for restaurants that are local institutions, they’ve been around for donkey’s years for a good reason. In particular, choose family owned and run establishments, they have skin in the game.

  • Seasonal and local: look for restaurants with their short menus on a chalk board – dishes change with the seasons. Look in particular for the words “fait maison” (home-made). Generally, avoid restaurants with large, laminated menus. Don’t go a la carte, prix-fixe menus are generally better value.

  • Effort with ambience: when in doubt opt for the restaurant with linen napkins (and maybe tablecloths) and fresh flowers. See which ones are popular with locals rather than tourists. Failing which, just trust your nose and instinct, and ask plenty of questions about the menu.

What are the French doing to improve this state of affairs?

Today, 21 March, 5,000 chefs from around the world will create a French-style dinner, based around socially responsible cuisine.  It will be a demonstration of cuisine which is firmly rooted in its time and is sensitive to the needs of today: respecting the planet and healthy eating. Visitors and locals will be able to sample tasty food which showcases not only local farmers and produce, but also socially responsible cuisine focusing on environmental protection.

So all over France until 24 March, you will find initiatives and experiences to be shared and enjoyed. In particular, Provence in 2019 has been designated the foremost destination for gastronomy and will be promoted at Goût de /Good France events both in France and internationally.  For the first time, the Bouches-du-Rhône department and Provence Tourisme are launching Marseille Provence Gastronomie 2019 (MPG2019), a year of gastronomy in Provence under the patronage of renowned French chef Gérald Passedat. It will be a year of celebrations, meetings between chefs, gourmet markets, picnics, urban vegetable gardens and more – a genuine gastronomic journey through Provence!

 

 

My least favourite places to visit

IMHO these three are the worst places to visit in France. That said, their equivalents in other countries are probably no better.

1. Any mobile phone/internet provider shop

My own experiences are strictly limited to Orange but judging by the queues outside the other operators in France, they’re probably similar. Thanks to having our own company, we’ve managed to move all of our services onto a “Pro” basis. The advantage being we get “service” 24/7 and we can book an appointment with a dedicated “Pro” advisor at our local Orange shop.

However the advice, particularly when we’re talking “internet,” only goes so far because we’ve had an extension fitted so that our WiFi reaches beyond the walls of the office. We had said extension fitted by a specialist arm of Orange pitched at larger corporates, rather than ourselves, which offers an all-singing, all-dancing service costing an arm and a leg, and the rest of one’s torso. We’re currently waiting to access FIBRE which we fervently hope will give us greater capacity and a speedier service.

2. Any pharmacy

The French are by and large all hypochondriacs and, if they’re feeling under the weather,  their first port of call is the local pharmacy – there’s one every 100 metres. Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration! But go into any pharmacy and you’ll generally find a long queue. Admittedly many of those queueing will be elderly and probably looking to have a friendly chat with someone about their various ailments.The outlaw (my mother-in-law) would love it here!

The pharmacists are all very knowledgable and will quiz you about your symptoms to ensure they’re suggesting the best rather than the priciest  products. My favourite pharmacy, largely because it’s a little goldmine, is in the Cap 3000 shopping mall in Saint Laurent du Var. It has an unrivalled selection of goodies, masses of staff, is always full of customers and has security on its doors.

Of course, the pharmacies lighten the load of the local doctors. Most are privately owned by the pharmacist, there are few pharmacy chains in France – or indeed in most of Europe. There’s (fortunately) no equivalent of Boots or Wallgreens.

3. The Post Office

Most French Post Offices are well-organised with plenty of machines to weigh and frank your post, thereby minimising the number of staff. Again, there’s a “Pro” service which allows you to jump those inevitably long queues, providing there’s someone staffing the desk. The problem is that once again the place is generally full of the elderly – you know I don’t include myself in that description – who are unable/incapable of operating said machines. Many of them use the Post Office bank and always seem to require counter assistance. I’ve found the only way to hurry them up is to give them a helping hand. While they can use the Post Office during the week, they seem to prefer Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings!

I seem to spend an inordinately long time each week at our main Post Office. During the summer, it’s a nightmare parking nearby as it’s close to the beach and is one of the few roads with free car parking, so there’s rarely a space. Of course, they could install those machines which allow you to park for 15 minutes only but any trip to the Post Office generally takes at least 30 minutes!


Perils of aging I

Anything that talks about baby boomers tends to catch my eye, particularly since I recently experienced my maiden “Senior Moment.” So as soon as I spotted an article about tech products for baby boomers, I just had to read it.

Admitedly the article was US centric and more than a bit patronising about the ability of the older generation to cope with new technology. I’ve experienced this down at the Post Office where I often lend a hand to those more elderly [than me], to speed things up. Equally, of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy elders – ourselves included. Though the article claims tech products are starting to become more senior-friendly through voice recognition, touch screens and sensors. Its thrust was that the best tech products for elders need to serve a real purpose in their lives, many of whom may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive impairment.

Of course, I dismissed most of these innovations out of hand as being for baby boomers so much older than us. As I scrolled through the article I sadly noted no one seems to have yet perfected a robot that can do all or even some of the housework. One of those would be worth their weight in gold. No, most of them seemed intent on keeping track of the elderly in one way or another. No doubt so anxious relatives can ensure they don’t swan off with their inheritance!

There was one however which caught my eye. My beloved would love to have a dog but a) we live in an apartment b) I know I’d end up looking after it and c) he would want a large dog. My beloved always scoffs at small dogs. I think he feels it would be an affront to his masculinity to be seen walking a ball of fluff. That said he’s inordinately fond of his niece and nephew’s dog, a mini dachshund with attitude! So, when I saw this I thought: problem solved!

Ageless Innovation: Joy for All – Companion, life-like pets

A spin-out from the Hasbro toy company has developed fun and engaging, furry, life-like companion pets (pups and kittens), designed to create a connection between them and older adults. The pet responds to voices with little barks or purrs, and even has a heartbeat activated by petting. Its marketing blurb goes on to say:

In between naps and being adorable, real puppies require a lot of special attention. Joy for All Companion Golden Pup has all the love in the world to give but won’t chew up your slipper! [Nor, more importantly, will in wee or poop on your floors.] Thanks to built-in sensors and speakers, the pup can recreate some of the more delightful moments of owning a dog, including being a best friend for aging loved ones.

I watched the video and the puppy appears to be modelled on those cute Labrador ones which promote a well-known brand of toilet paper in the UK. It’s undeniably charming and I could see it bringing comfort and joy to those with cognitive impairment. My mother had Alzheimer’s and I would happily have spent US$119.99 (plus taxes) because I think she’d have enjoyed petting it. Alternatively, she might just have thrown it at me. We’ll never know!

The downside is that you can’t take it for a walk. Lots of the elderly where I live – we’re talking 80 years+ – have small dogs and I regularly see them out walking their dogs and stopping to chat to other neighbours and dog owners. The dog gets them out and about in the fresh air and gives them a connection to others. That might just be why France has so many centenarians!

Birthday bonanza

I recently posed the question as to what my beloved wanted to do to celebrate his birthday at the end of April. He discovered we could fly to Majorca for next to nothing, leaving plenty to splash on a five star hotel. But which one, there were so many? My beloved wisely left the choice to me.

As I was reviewing hotel candidates, I reflected on how we had spent my birthday. I had a “day out” in Toulouse. This wasn’t my choice. My beloved had a client meeting in Castres which we’d already explored on an earlier trip. We’d both previously visited Toulouse but those visits had merely whet our appetites to see more of the city. Thanks to the freezing cold weather my “day out” was more of a half- day thus most of Toulouse’s splendours still remain unexplored.

Now, as you know, I’m not big on birthday celebrations which is just as well because I’ve spent plenty of my special days either with my beloved’s salesteams or, alternatively, home alone while my beloved was living it up in the West Indies, Mexico or other such exotic spots.

I’ve noted that he’s pretty much always available to celebrate his birthday. Last year, for example, we spent five days in Paris for his while mine was celebrated at a favourite spot in Seefeld just before we returned from Austria.

In years past I’ve celebrated with a girlfriend – champagne and oysters – whose birthday is a few days before mine. However, she now lives in Paris and her other half makes her day into a really special occasion.

It’s not that I want a song and dance made of my birthday, more an equal sharing of the spoils. My beloved is exonerated from buying me a present. Gift giving is so not one of his competencies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to expect him to plan a pleasant day out together.

I had tried to book one of Toulouse’s top restaurants but, even a couple of months in advance, an early January Tuesday lunchtime was fully-booked! I never leave booking restaurants to my beloved, he forgets all too easily and the time I spend reminding him can be more wisely spent on making the booking.

As soon as we arrived in Toulouse, I spotted a lovely brasserie in one of the main squares and my beloved secured the last available table for two – result – where we had an enjoyable lunch albeit the day after my birthday.

We had travelled down to Castres on my birthday but Monday evening is never a great time to eat out as, along with Sunday evening, most restaurants are closed. Still, we’d brunched the day before at one of our regular spots with my sister and brother-in-law, so I really don’t have anything to complain about, do l?

Outlook

My new windows are in and I’m as pleased as punch. They do a much better job of keeping the heat in, and the noise, dust and wind out. Thanks to the amount of research I did beforehand over the choice of windows and contractor, the process was relatively painless. What’s more, it’s also partly tax-deductible as we’re doing our bit for global warming!

I say relatively because I organised to have the windows installed in what turned out to be the coldest week of the year. Luckily it was dry and largely sunny.

Work of this type is a dirty and dusty process although the workmen were incredibly neat and tidy and did a good job cleaning up after themselves each day. Nonetheless, there was dust everywhere!

The contractors advised the installation would take 3-4 days. We realised after day one it was going to take all week. I however had a fixed price contract so the extra time taken ensured an impressive finish, after I’d established on the first day that I had an eye for detail and would be satisfied with nothing less than the best.

Workmen in Britain typically pitch up and expect tea (or coffee) and biscuits before getting down to any work, and then at regular intervals throughout the day. Not so in France. They’re here promptly at 08:00 am and work through until light falls, saving less noisy work for 12:00 – 14:00 lunchtime period. As it was bitterly cold, I treated them to a post-lunch coffee and slice of fruit cake. I found this helped them focus on that all-important finish.

We spent the whole week swathed in cashmere, something we now typically only wear on winter holidays. But it was the only way to stay warm while daytime temperatures were below 10°C and the windows were wide open. In addition, we had lunch out every day to save me fom cooking or having to prepare food in dusty conditions.

Aside from the dust everywhere, the floors got really dirty, far too dirty for Bob (my automatic floor sweeper). After the workmen departed it was all hands on deck, including my beloved, for a big clean-up. As anticipated, my view now looks even better!

 

Senior moment

It’s happened and I’m going to have to get over it. Another birthday and my first senior moment. I’m on the slippery slope. Next I’ll be “having falls” and buying slippers and cardigans.

When I travel on business with my beloved, I take charge of all those pesky receipts. You know the ones he loses en route or I find months later in the pocket of something.

Having returned from our recent trip to Toulouse and Castres, I took out all the receipts, annotated and sorted them before putting them into an envelope. Their destination was the “expenses” drawer where I store everything until month end. At the same time I dealt with what seemed like an inordinate amount of post, much of which ended up being vertically filed.

Just a few days later I opened the “expenses” drawer but the documents on top were not the ones I was expecting. Where were the most recent expenses and post? I closed my eyes and indulged in a spot of visualisation. I could see myself getting the receipts out, sorting them but not putting them in the drawer. Had they gotten caught up with something else and been misfiled? Had they fallen down the back of the drawer?

I closed my eyes again and realised later that day I’d indulged in a spot of Marie Kondoesque tidying. That’s right. Anything on my desk that no longer gave me joy ended up in the waste paper basket which had already been emptied and sent for recycling! I can only assume that I had gotten carried away and vertically filed the expenses and post.

My beloved was rather enjoying my discomfort though, of course, he was thankful that it was me rather than he who’d had the mishap. He might be tempted to torment me in the future but he’ll soon forget it ever happened.

Luckily my normally excellent memory came to my rescue and I called the hotel and restaurants to request copies of those invoices which could be replicated. For those that couldn’t, such as tolls and petrol, I fortunately had a record on my credit card. My accountant’s not going to be happy as in France the rule is “no justicatif, no deduction” but I think I can cobble together enough bits of paper to keep her happy.

To be on the safe side, I’ll continue to steer clear of slippers and cardigans.