One from the Vaults: Simples!

I believe I may have mentioned on more than one occasion that my beloved is the man who just turns up.  Of course, it’s partly my own fault for smoothing the path for him for over 40 years. He rarely has to trouble himself with anything administrative. Here’s another oldie from March 2013.

A few weeks ago my beloved handed me a plastic folder assuring me that it contained everything he needed for his Russian visa application for a forthcoming trip. Now, it’s not that I didn’t believe him, I’m sure it contained everything he thought he needed. But it’s been a while since we had to apply for a Russian visa, plus the process is made more complicated with our French residence and my husband’s inability to be separated from his British passport for more than a day.

In years past we’ve been able to obtain the visa the same day from either the Russian embassy in Marseille or the one in London. The plan was to pop into the embassy in Marseille on our way down to the Basque country. I felt however that it was incumbent on me to check exactly what was required. I discovered that while the embassy still handles applications, it can no longer turn them around in a day and, such has been the demand for visas, that they’ve outsourced the process to a Russian-manned visa handling service in Marseille which has the advantage of longer opening hours than the Embassy. I booked my beloved an appointment for the Friday and started to complete the new on-line 15-page application form which seemed to require an amazing amount of information.

I had to give details of my beloved’s degree a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and Management and then, later on in the form, had to assert that he had no competence with chemical processes! My problems began when the form asked me to list all his earlier Russian visas. I have details for the last seven years, but no further back. I was also required to list every country he’d ever visited in the last ten years giving the date of visit day/month/year! Now if he hadn’t lost his passport back in 2010, I would have been able to at least list all those countries who’d stamped his passport.

Just to be on the safe side I contacted the visa service who didn’t seem too fussed and told me to list what I could remember. I had to complete the form, all 15 pages of it, 4 times before everything was correctly recorded as it kept logging me out after 20 minutes. I thought I could retrieve saved data but that turned out not to be the case. I could only save it once fully and correctly completed. I carefully checked through the documentary requirements, I had everything they appeared to be asking for, so I checked what I’d done last time. I’d had to get an “attestation” in French and Russian confirming that my beloved had the appropriate level of travel insurance. So this was requested from our insurer and it arrived in time for our departure to Marseille.

We arrived early in Marseille and decided to head straight to the office of the visa-handling service ahead of our appointed time. Just as well we did. Although my husband had booked his hotel and flight, the hotel was required to send him yet another form to complete which he had to return to the hotel who would then issue him with a duly stamped tourist voucher. We struck lucky, the lady processing our application assisted us with obtaining the missing paperwork which took three calls on my beloved’s mobile to expedite. Noting that we lived in France she demanded proof of our residence such as an electricity bill. This would have been no use whatsoever as it’s in my name. Luckily the insurance “attestation” stated my husband’s address! Almost home and dry.

While all this was being dealt with at least four people came to request a visa and were sent away as they did not possess the correct paperwork. Finally we paid and left in the belief that it’ll be waiting for us on our return on 8 April. If not…………….my beloved will have to spend a day at the Russian embassy in London trying to speed up matters, otherwise he won’t be going to Russia. So far we have expended 10 man hours – excluding travel time – Euros 80,00 on petrol and tolls plus Euros 134,00 for the visa itself.

The agency has set up a special desk for the handling of visas for those going to the winter Olympics in Sochi next year. I have a few words of advice, start the process now!

Postscript: On the way back from Spain we popped in to the Visa Agency to collect my beloved’s Russian visa which had been processed and was happily waiting for us – success.

Bathroom Basics and COVID-19

This advice is from the biomin.co.uk website.

Coronavirus, COVID-19, is going to change every possible aspect of our lives, much of it beyond our control. However, there are practical things we can do in our homes to limit the risks of cross-contamination or infection – starting in our own bathrooms.

These changes in our habits are being forced upon us by coronavirus, but they are actually good changes to make for the long term. It’s often the case that if one member of a household gets a bug, the rest of the family go down with it too. The bathroom is very possibly the culprit.

Our bathrooms are the places we go to get clean, yet they are probably the part of the home that houses the most germs. According to a US study, 60% of toothbrushes stored in communal bathrooms tested positive for faecal coliform bacteria – that’s poo to you and me – and if you share a bathroom it’s probably someone else’s. Research into COVID-19 suggests that the virus is spread not only by cough droplets but also lives on in faecal matter, sprayed into the air from the toilet.

According to infection control expert, Professor Laurie Walsh, from the University of Queensland Australia, faecal-oral contamination could be responsible for up to 30% of the current cases of COVID-19. Handwashing, combined with good bathroom hygiene to reduce the aerosol effect on surfaces from toilet flushing, could really make a difference.

As we all try to minimise the spread of infection between family members, here is BioMin’s guide to some things you can do in your own bathroom to minimise the chance of spreading not only coronavirus but any infectious conditions among your family or household.

 

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Toilets

Close the lid when you flush the toilet. This prevents the particles flying out and landing on toothbrushes, towels and other surfaces.

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Handwashing

Although the virus is easily transmitted, it is also quite straightforward to kill with warm water and soap. COVID-19 is described as an ‘envelope virus’ with a fatty outer coating. This is dissolved by soap, and the virus within starts to be inactivated at 27°C. The advice is to wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds as soon as you enter the bathroom.

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Towels

Each member of the household should use their own towel, including hand towels, and these should be laundered frequently at 60°C. Perhaps colour code each family member’s towels, or mark them in some way so everyone knows which is theirs.

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Toothpaste

Give each family member their own tube of toothpaste – this will prevent microbes being transferred either by touching the tube or from the tube to the toothbrush. Keep this in their own wash bags.

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Toothbrushes and teeth cleaning

Your mouth is the gateway to your body and, as such, a healthy mouth is essential to help you resist any kind of viral or bacterial infection. A clean toothbrush is key to this. See our tips below…

DO NOT

  • Share toothbrushes.
  • Keep your toothbrushes close together in the same toothmug.

DO

  • Wash your hands BEFORE you clean your teeth.
  • Use an antimicrobial mouthwash before you brush. This reduces the level of bacteria in your mouth before you start so there will be less to transfer to the toothbrush.
  • Rinse the toothbrush afterwards to get rid of toothpaste and debris, and get it as dry as you can in the air – do not use a toothbrush cover or container as these prevent the bristles from drying and make it easier for germs to grow.
  • Have a separate washbag for each family member to store their own toothbrush, shaving kit and other toiletries. This will protect the contents from airborne droplets and keep them separate.
  • Alternatively, store your toothbrush standing vertically but well away from the toilet
  • Consider keeping your toothbrushes outside the bathroom
  • Prepare a washbag and overnight bag for any family member who needs to go into hospital
  • Some people like to use a toothbrush sanitiser
  • If you are a parent teaching a child to clean their teeth, stand beside them and supervise them while they try to learn to do this themselves
  • Replace your toothbrush after illness or infection
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Oral health

Dental practices may only be able to see emergency cases for a while, so it’s more important than ever to maintain good oral hygiene and take care of your teeth. Keep brushing and flossing regularly, and use mouthwash as required.

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Bathroom cleaning

Disinfect your bathroom surfaces daily, using cleaning products which, are both bactericidal and virucidal. Bear in mind some bathroom spray products can cause respiratory problems.


Irrespective of the current coronavirus crisis, these practical steps are good habits to develop, and train your family to adopt, and will help us all to do our own bit to protect our families from this and any future infections.


Please visit your local government or the World Health Organization for further information about COVID-19.

Created by Moira Crawford

Life under lock-down in France

From midnight Saturday we had been following French government guidelines and indulging in social distancing. We weren’t the only ones even though the French are not renowned for toeing the party line. Indeed, the French locally appeared to be unusually compliant in the face of the current health threat. Maybe their hypochondria is greater than their desire to complain? More probably it was due to the rapid escalation in numbers infected in an area where 40% of the population is over 65. For the avoidance of doubt, I should just add that I’m not part of that high percentage. However, it appears in other parts of France that the rules were being routinely flouted.

Consequently, new orders came into effect from midday today. We can only leave our homes for work, assuming we can’t work from home, for purchasing food, for trips to pharmacies, hospitals or the doctors, for trips in connection with looking after children or oldies, or to exercise on our own near where we live. Everytime we go out we have to complete an attestation “self-certification” explaining why we’re out and about, in case we’re stopped by the police. Luckily we can still cycle (on our own).

In addition France’s borders are closed for 30 days. If – and it’s a big if – they open after 30 days, because certain countries such as UK and US are well behind France in terms of controlling the outbreak, I suspect traffic from these countries may still be banned!

The loss of economic activity is being underwritten by the French government so, in practice, no one will lose out.

I wasn’t sure what to think when the Corona virus first broke in China. Was the press being alarmist, overdramatic even? Experience has taught me that only 5% of what we read is in fact “true.” Instead, we spoke to business colleagues and friends over in China. None were in the affected area but all were confined to home and following government orders. We now know the Chinese acted swiftly and decisively and that pretty much everyone is now back at work after a 4-month hiatus which included Chinese New Year. South Korea, Singapore and Thailand have been similarly successful in containing the virus outbreak.

We then spoke with friends in northern Italy, in the most affected areas. The Italian health services were swamped and people were only too happy to stay home in splendid isolation. It’s been a similar story from friends in Spain. We then learnt of the death of a dear business colleague from the disease. That combination of events greatly changed our perception.

I should add that while my husband tends towards hypochondria and has a well-stocked bathroom cabinet, he has spent a number of years working in the area of infection control, a subject on which he’s pretty knowledgeable. So, while we had been out and about in the weeks prior to this last weekend, we’ve worn gloves, used antiseptic wipes and washed our hands more times that I care to remember.

It’s only day three of our self-imposed exile and cabin fever has yet to set in. Of course that’s partly because we already work from home. So, no change there. While the closure of bars, cafes and restaurants will greatly impact our social lives, we can still get pizzas delivered, McDonalds drive-ins are operational and I bet the traiteurs are doing a roaring trade. We can also get meals delivered from our on-site restaurant in the Domaine.

Fortunately, we can still ride so long as there’s no more than a couple of us in the group. However, you may already be aware that I ride either on my own or with my beloved. We’d both been for a long ride on Saturday so just needed a quick recovery ride on Sunday morning. Thereafter we decided to tidy up our balcony and tend to our large collection of succulents which have perked up considerably after some TLC. In the afternoon we went for a wander around the Domaine’s extensive grounds, meeting only a couple of our neighbours with dogs who kept their distance, not so the dogs!

Our week-ends are often spent enjoying sport either live or on television so that’s a bit of a hole which we won’t be filling with more television. Though I’m not sure we’ll resort to emulating MotoGP rider Alex Marquez (above) who’s clearly not handling well being stuck at home.

We’re not fans of binging on box-sets and don’t subscribe to either Amazon TV or Netflix. Since we can’t go to the gym or the swimming pool, we’ll be exercising at home. If my beloved feels the need, he can don his wetsuit and go for a swim in the sea. The time “saved” can be put towards tackling those jobs around the flat which we’re generally only too keen to postpone for as long as possible.

Usually the thought of having my beloved at home for an extended period of time without a few day’s grace would bring me out in hives. But, to be honest, after breaking his leg a couple of year’s ago, he’s travelled a lot less and instead of being away every other week, more recently it’s gone down to a week per month. Now he’s at home until further notice. I’m resigning myself to treating this as a dry run for retirement, when he’ll be underfoot pretty much all the time.

Unusually, after our most recent trip to Dubai we had very few trips organised this year, largely because my beloved is training to take part in this year’s L’Etape du Tour, one of the stages of the Tour de France, in early July. While this participation is now very much up in the air, he’ll continue to train. I have been able to postpone the three flights which we’d booked for up and coming trips at no extra cost. Given that we’re most fortunate to live in a wonderful part of the world, staying at home will be no hardship.

Neither of us has any underlying health conditions and we’re in excellent shape for our respective ages. Nonetheless, we’re not taking any unnecessary risks. The French, at least in our corner of the world, don’t appear to be stockpiling and there are adequate supplies of pretty much everything, including toilet paper, in the supermarkets. We’re keeping a close eye on some of our elderly neighbours who live alone and have offered to shop for them but, for the time being, they are keen to occasionally get out and about.

Fortunately, I have a stock of recent trips to blog about but thereafter I may well be indulging in some virtual travel. Please stay safe and follow your government’s or state’s guidelines. You know it makes sense.

 

 

 

Orange Hellfire

Since we now have access to an excellent Fibre WiFi service throughout the entire apartment, and even out on the terrace, you might imagine that everything was tickety boo. Sadly, that’s not the case. We’re still suffering from one small problem, the billing. Specifically the billing of a once-dormant line that was accidentally activated by an over enthusiastic assistant at our local Orange shop. That’s right, almost a year after the event, we’re still trying to get Orange to correct an error that one of their staff made which is turning into my very own Groundhog Day hell.

You may have read that late last year the former CEO and other executives of France’s Orange internet provider and telecoms firm were found guilty of a string of employee suicides at the company. The trial marked the first time that a big company had been tried on a charge of “collective moral harassment”  – France is one of only a few countries in the world where an institution or a company can be prosecuted for such an offense. No mention was made of whether the CEO and other executives had been held responsible for the suicides of any of their customers!

I recently received a very politely worded reminder from the Head of Customer Services at Orange enquiring whether I had overlooked payment of an outstanding invoice. Now, I appreciate that such correspondence is automatically generated. No, I had not simply forgotten to pay the invoice. I have no intention of paying it. Let me explain why.

In April of last year, we switched over from Broadband to Fibre. Unbeknown to us, our assistant at Orange in Cap 3000 reanimated our old facsimile number, cancelled more than 10 years ago. We most certainly did not ask him to do this.

The first we knew of this error was when we received an invoice in the mail – all our invoices are received via email – in early October of last year for the period April – October. I firstly approached the same assistant at Orange Cap 3000 who advised me that there was nothing he could do and that I should write to Customer Services. At this point, I did not know that it was he who had made the mistake. I duly wrote and received a reply advising I should ring their Customer Services Help Desk, a number which can only be rung from inside France.

Due to our respective travel commitments outside of France, I rang them at the first opportunity and finally spoke to one of their call centre staff. This was after spending some time going through the usual rigmarole of pressing various buttons and responding to certain automated questions. This process can take as little as 10 minutes but woe betide if you give the wrong response. It’s a case of “Do not Pass Go, Do Not Collect €200 and Go Straight Back to the Start.”

At this point, I did not know why the number had been reanimated so, as a precaution, I paid the invoice having been advised that if it was an error I would receive a refund. I wanted to check with the team at Parnasse (the part of Orange that had fitted our Fibre service) to check that they had not used the line in some way to facilitate our access to Fibre.

We continued to receive invoices and meanwhile, Parnasse confirmed that they had not used or reanimated the line in any way. In November, I once again contacted Customer Services. The person I eventually spoke with confirmed that the line had not been used at all and that it had been .reanimated by the chap at Orange Cap 3000. He was immediately struck off my Xmas card list. The line would be cancelled forthwith and a telephonic rendez vous  organised whereby someone from Customer Refunds would call me on a given day and time to organise a refund and the cancellation of the outstanding invoices. No one, but no one from Orange telephoned us!

On receipt of January’s invoice, I rang again and spoke to yet another helpful call centre operator and she confirmed that the line (and invoicing) had now been cancelled. Once again, a date was established whereby Customer Refunds would telephone me. Once again, no one from Orange contacted us.

You can therefore perhaps appreciate my frustration when we received yet another invoice swiftly followed by the reminder from the Head of Customer Relations to which I have responded in some detail. I am hoping (possibly in vain) that my letter explaining the situation will finally resolve this long-standing issue which stems from an error on the part of one of Orange’s own employees. I am not holding my breath – watch this space!

 

 

Things about France that surprised me: French hypochondria

Now, what do I mean by this? The French exhibit abnormal, chronic anxiety about their health. I suppose that’s one of the reasons my beloved feels so at home here. Am I just making base accusations? Let’s look at the evidence.

Any time you sniffle in France your friends and neighbours (all amateur diagnosticians), will quickly recommend any number of doctors to visit or pills and potions to take. Youngsters can tell you if their mal à la tête (headache) is stress-related or whether your angina is a petite angine or a grande angine. Or whether you have one of the ailments that I’ve only ever heard of in France. My favourite is the ever rampant crise de foie – digestive troubles most often caused by a too rich meal.

Far be it from me to suggest that France is a nation of hypochondriacs, but let’s just say their comprehensive healthcare system – for which I’m suitably grateful – hovers at the top of the WHO’s best healthcare lists  and makes it rather easy to be one.

The French visit the doctor more than in any other country. And there is a cultural consensus that the doctor isn’t treating you well unless you come away with a prescription. Or two. Or three.

Next stop: la Pharmacie

The French fixation with all that is scientifically au courant has ensured that le pharmacien is embedded in the Gallic esprit as omnipotent. Since the days of Molière, Voltaire and Flaubert, the self-important pharmacist has been celebrated and lampooned (as have their patients) as they dispense pseudo-scientific potions to a nation of hypochondriacs.

Pharmacies throughout France look as important as they are. Many are elegant old shops with polished wood counters and glass shelves lined with antique vessels holding arcane formulas. Some even have chandeliers. The Pharmacie de la Bourdonnais (above), near the Eiffel Tower, for example, is a 19th century establishment that has been deemed an historic monument.

I’ve never seen or been into an empty pharmacy in France and there’s generally at least one every 500 metres. They’re full of people, largely the elderly, lining up to present their ailments and receive the benefit of the pharmacist’s wisdom, or pick up their one, two or three prescription. It is generally accepted that France is one of the most highly “prescribed” countries. When everything from prescriptions to seawater spa therapies is covered, it’s easy to understand why. Indeed the pharmacy and the pharmacist’s importance in French society cannot be exaggerated. And it goes beyond the nature of the healthcare system.

French pharmacies are different from American drugstores or UK chemists. French pharmacies are single minded places, so you won’t find cigarettes, greeting cards, soft drinks, magazines, sandwiches or any thing else associated with one-stop, convenience. The key relationship between the customer and pharmacist, who is usually also the owner, is trust, as opposed to convenience or price. The pharmacist is heavily invested in advising customers on the appropriate over-the-counter medicine and/or the most appropriate toothpaste.

French Pharmaceutical Market

Given what I’ve just said, you won’t be surprised to learn that France is among the biggest consumers of pharmaceutical products in the world. It has the world’s highest consumption of medicines per capita. With a population of 65 million (of which 11 million are over 65 years), France vies with Germany as the largest European market for medical care.

According to INSEE, the French statistical office and the French Ministry of Industry, the French pharmaceutical sector generates an annual turnover of €36 billion and is ranked third in the world for the wide-ranging drugs prescribed by doctors.

The French have long been known for their high prescription drug use rate. Further statistics from France’s National Drug Safety Agency show that 32% of the French population had used anti-depressant drugs, either on a regular or occasional basis. The French pharmaceutical sector is the biggest in Europe and the third largest in the world, with the giant French Sanofi Pasteur group being one of the biggest drugs company in the world.

However, I can’t deny that the health care system here is excellent. Once you have obtained a carte vitale, you are refunded the cost of doctors’ appointments, medication and treatments.

Pill poppers

To France’s envious European neighbours, the pace of day-to-day French living may seem attractively pedestrian. In theory, workers enjoy a maximum 35-hour working week, and their quality of life is further enhanced by generous holidays and a healthy respect for sacrosanct long lunches and weekends.

Yet beneath their apparently relaxed exterior, the French have been outed as Europe’s leading hypochondriacs, consuming a record number of prescription drugs – including vast quantities of tranquillizers, sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

So worried are the French about their health that on average they buy more than 48 boxes of medicines per annum from French chemists, a total of 2.6 billion pills and potions, according to newly released government figures – more medicine per head than any other country in Europe. I can concur with this finding as my beloved has what appears to be a small sub-branch of the local pharmacy in his bathroom cabinet. I, on the other hand, have no pills or potions in mine.

French officials were shocked at the year-on-year rise in the annual drugs bill, despite a campaign to cut consumption. Among the drugs most often prescribed by doctors were over-the-counter painkillers, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers and anti-depressants. The number of hospital prescriptions also rose.

One Parisian doctor said the French health system encouraged hypochondria:

I get a lot of people coming to me because they think they might be getting a cold. They are not happy unless they go away with a prescription for something. If I don’t give them what they want, they will only go to another doctor and another until they get one.

Has the French approach to illness and the body brought about a health system that panders to le malade imaginaire, or has the efficiency and popularity of the system itself bred a whole nation of hypochondriacs? Either way, it’s something that should be given urgent attention particularly as here on the Cote d’Azur we’ve just had our first instance of someone infected with the Coronavirus confirmed.

So far I’ve not seen evidence of mass hysteria, though there have been calls to close the border with Italy. The Nice Carnival and Menton Lemon Festival were abruptly terminated, though that was largely due to the danger posed by high winds. Our local pharmacy is handing out useful leaflets with plenty of advice on preventing infection and still has some disposable masks in stock. To allay fears, the Mayor of Nice has even set up a helpline:-

Saturday Postscript: Events involving gatherings of more than 5,000 people have been cancelled. This includes the Nice Foire, MIPIM – the property expo in Cannes and quite probably the bike race Paris-Nice.

Another one from the Vaults: Postcards from Seefeld II

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. This one’s about skiing from March 2015 and is the second part of this morning’s post.

A week ago we had just returned from a week’s vacation where –  and I only have myself to blame –  I allowed my beloved to choose the hotel. In the many, many years we’ve been married I’ve allowed him to book hotels only twice before, neither of which was an unqualified success. It’s just not one of his competencies. He’s blinded by the pretty photographs and forgets to check the small print.

My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace
My beloved enjoying the sunshine on the hotel terrace

The hotel wasn’t a total disaster but we won’t be returning. On the positive side, it was in a fabulous location, the rooms were spacious with south-facing balconies and it was a small family run affair. Usually a bell weather, but not this time. Mein hosts, along with their overly fussy totally coordinated decor and menus, were firmly stuck in the last century. They pitch their offering very much at the German retiree market, a segment with plenty of spending power and a desire to return year after year after year.

The hotel claimed to have WiFi throughout but I soon discovered that the service worked intermittently in the bedrooms. Four of us on the hotel’s second floor had iPhones and iPads and, a bit like the Germans and their towels, you had to get up early to hog access the limited bandwidth.

Non fully functioning WiFi is one of my pet peeves and the hotel will get marked down on my booking.com evaluation. And, while we’re on the subject of complaints, I’d also like to confiscate the chef’s mandolin, the use of which was willful and without reason. Marcus Waring wouldn’t have approved either! Chef also liked decorating the plates with little dots of balsamic vinegar which added nothing to our enjoyment of the dish and, another cardinal sin, painting stripes of stuff across the plates. I dare say that Mein hosts thought this the height of fine dining, but they’re wrong, it is not.

Serviette Folding

Frau Host had a firm grip on the book “The Art of Folding Serviettes.”  Every evening they were arranged in a different fashion and the table decorated with what I can only describe as knickknacks – so NOT necessary! Plain white linen table cloths and neatly folded serviettes please. The Saturday before we left was St Valentines Day and they went totally overboard.

As I waited to check out, Herr Host was having a long conversation with a couple of regulars taking their leave. I swear that he clicked his heels together smartly and inclined his head as he shook their hands and bade them farewell for another year. I was not accorded the same courtesy. I sensed he knew I would not be returning. I half expected the bill to be laminated much like my “yellow card.”

Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks
Over enthusiastic use of exclamation marks

I had committed the cardinal sin of omitting to fill in the registration card which was hidden among the pile of brochures in the bedroom. In truth, he’d run pretty much amok with the laminating machine and I suspect his wife bought him it for Christmas. Probably, the same year he bought her the book on how to fold serviettes.

Happy Valentine’s Day

As many of you know, I tend not to celebrate such events. Not because I’m Scrooge-like but because I dislike their commerciality. I try to make every day with my beloved special, not just one day a year.

This rather splendid (and massive) arrangement was in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel foyer, placed in front of an orchid and succulent garden, set atop a large piece of carved wood, which was also a statement piece.


To the rear was quite possibly the largest bunch of red roses I have ever seen – totally OTT!

If my beloved husband happens to read this, I’ll be more than happy with him attempting to make less or no mess today.

One from the Vaults: Are you gonna go my way?

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan.

Frankly, if Lenny Kravitz were to ask me, my answer would be affirmative. Sadly, Lenny wasn’t asking but I continue to live in hope rather than expectation. I’ll explain the connection, but first I have to back track.

The mercury had risen a few degrees, the sun was shining so my beloved and I decided to venture up into the hills for a ride. It was still chilly in the shade, and one had to exercise caution in the corners, but I was riding really well.  I suspect Peter Sagan (winner of today’s stage in the Tour of Oman) and I had the same breakfast this morning.

My husband turned round early to get back for a conference call while I pressed onwards and upwards. I was riding strongly even though I was doing high cadence intervals. I was channelling my inner Alberto [Contador] and spinning without too much movement on the bike. Not quite as supple as Alberto, but I’m getting there. I even overtook a few groups of cyclists but almost came to grief as a Monaco registered black Porsche passed by me way too close. Still, on the positive side, he’d have been able to afford to compensate my beloved for losing the woman who makes his life heaven [and hell] or, at best, replace my beloved bike.

A gentleman, probably in his early sixties, rode up to me and expressed concern with antics of the Porsche. We exchanged a few disparaging words about foreigners and tax dodgers. Then he accelerated gently away. I was determined to keep him in view. I picked up my pace and maintained the distance between us. As we crested the hill, at the entrance to the village, the road flattens out and I shot past him. I was well ahead as I started the descent but he caught me as I was delayed by a small traffic jam. He stayed on my wheel until the roundabout. I turned left after the roundabout, while he cut it. This was war! I tracked him. I didn’t know where he was going, but I was going too.

I stayed on his wheel until the next roundabout. I was hoping he was going to turn right. He did. I followed him up the slight rise, shifted into my big ring and then attacked on the downhill: game over. I know this descent like the back of my hand and I powered down it. I never saw him again.

This is one of my favourite games when I’m out riding. I like to get someone in my sights, ride up to them and past. Guys generally don’t like being overtaken by a female and will often give chase. I can hold my own on the flat, am vulnerable on any climbs but will crush anyone on the downhills.  Most rides around here involve a long ascent, then a few ups and downs, followed by a long descent. If you’re still in my sights come the descent, you’re toast!

Of course, some resolutely refuse to play ball and ride me off their wheels on the ascent, never to be seen again. But if I don’t at least try, I’ll never get into a winning position. I wonder if Lenny cycles?

One from the Vaults: Don’t talk to strangers

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan.

When I was very much younger my Mum cautioned me against talking to strangers. I’m sure your Mum probably said something similar. But who are these strangers? To be honest, Mum didn’t give me much clarification at the time, or since. I’m sure her intention was to keep me safe. But statistics show that most people are either harmed or killed by people they know ie not strangers. There are few really random acts of violence.

To be honest, I never much heeded her words and have spent most of my life talking to people I didn’t or don’t know. In fact I’m happy to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. The first instance I can recall was on a summer vacation to the Isle of Wight when I would have been around 18 months’ old. My parents (as a joke) deposited me in a large waste paper bin and walked round the corner. The joke was on them as I was rescued by a couple staying in the same hotel who heeded my cries for help. Just imagine the shocked looks on my parents faces when they returned seconds later to find me gone! Or maybe they were relieved.  In any event, we were shortly reunited.

While I was at primary school, Wednesday afternoons (and Saturday mornings) I attended ballet classes. My mother was hoping (in vain) to make me lighter on my feet. As a reward for my pirouettes my parents used to take me for afternoon tea at The Queen’s Hotel, later demolished to make way for New Street Station. Most of the hotel’s other guests were regulars, ladies and gentlemen of a certain age, often on their own. Once I’d been into the kitchens to see chef, and select my cakes, I would do the rounds of the hotel lounge. No one was safe. I would stroll up, bold as brass, and seat myself comfortably on a facing chair or sofa before smiling and then disarming them with my skilful interrogation techniques. No pliers or bright lights required. Once I had the facts at my disposal, they were filed away ready to be revisited the following week when I dropped by for an update. Early and very useful training for my future career as an auditor.

Now that I think about it, I’ve spent most of my life chatting to strangers and not come to any harm. Nowadays, when I’m out riding, I regularly strike up conversations with people I don’t know. I may not know their names, but they’re not strangers. We’re all part and parcel of the brother and sisterhood of cyclists.

Back in 2010, I started “chatting” with someone who shared my interests: football and cycling. We regularly dropped by one another’s blogs and left comments. I knew his name, where he lived, the names of his family and his email address, but that was it. We were to all intents and purposes strangers. In 2011 he made me and two other strangers a proposal we just couldn’t refuse. He suggested we pooled our efforts to write a cycling blog. It launched at the start of 2012 and has gone from strength to strength. It’s been such a blast. Mosey over to www.velovoices.com and check it out. Over the years, I managed to meet up with many of our VeloVoices and found we weren’t strangers at all, just long lost brothers and sisters in arms.

Thanksgiving: Part I

My beloved had built up sufficient air miles on British Airways for us to fly to and from New York, via London. We caught the first flight to London from Nice which left us about two hours between flights. I like to leave a reasonable amount of time to allow for delays and, more importantly, luggage transfer. We arrived in Newark ahead of schedule, early Sunday afternoon, and made our way to our nearby hotel for an overnight stay. I hadn’t wanted my beloved to drive any distance after a long-haul flight.

Typically, we’ll check in and then head into New York on the train from Newark. But it was cold and wet, so we opted for the gym and dinner locally. My beloved looked at the list of local restaurants, many of which were Hispanic; we plumped for the one claiming to be Basque.

A quick cab ride and we were entering a large buzzing restaurant, with bar attached. The food looked and smelled delicious. Since everybody appeared to be taking home a doggy bag, I elected to have just the one course which I struggled to finish. My beloved had to assist. Both of our dishes lived up to the billing.

We got chatting to one of our waiters and discovered the lady owner came from Markina, near Bilbao, a town we’ve visited thanks to watching Itzulia, a pro-cycling tour of the Basque Country. My beloved’s choice turned out to be a great neighbourhood restaurant that’s been in situ for many years. Replete, we returned to the hotel and a great night’s sleep.

The following morning we returned to Newark to pick up our hire car only to discover my beloved had mislaid aka lost his wallet containing his driving licence (credit cards and a number of membership cards)! A quick re-enactment established the last time he could recall seeing his wallet was at Nice airport the previous morning when he’d taken out his card to access the priority security channel.

He’d taken the wallet out of his hand luggage, taken out the card, and stuffed both back in his raincoat pocket. The wallet must have fallen out somewhere en route. Fortunately he’s a Herz Gold Card member, meaning they have a copy of his driving licence on file. You might be wondering why he didn’t notice it was missing before, like when we checked into the hotel, or paid for dinner? Simples! I always handle all of these tedious details.

Having established he hadn’t left his wallet at our overnight hotel, we sped off through Manhattan to Long Island and our destination for Thanksgiving, Montauk.

Postscript: On our return, I successfully applied on line for a replacement licence for my beloved. The site also provides “a declaration of loss of licence” should one need to provide a copy of same,  although I also had a copy of it on file. The replacement licence arrived early in the new year – pretty impressive turnaround.