Plans awry

Our festive period tends to follow a pattern. We entertain friends the week-end before and then spend the entire period cycling plenty of kilometres, to wear off the additional calories, returning to work in the New Year, batteries recharged.

I’m not a fan of Christmases en famille. As children we never had table busting family Christmases. Frankly, not enough relatives. My father was an orphan and while my mother had living relatives, her older sister and mother, whom we saw at least once a week. No need to spend Christmas Day with them though we would see them over the festive period.

Initially, we spent Christmas with friends of my parents but, once they had children of their own, we spent the day chez nous. First as a foursome and then, after the arrival of my youngest sister Jane, a quintet. Occasionally, I recall, we’d have Christmas Day lunch at a hotel or restaurant. But with a Mum who was a fantastic cook and hostess, and a father in the food trade, why would you?

In all our many, many years of marriage, we’ve had a total of eight family Christmases, only one of which was with the outlaw. A few of you may be wondering, somewhat enviously, how I managed this. I cannot claim any real credit. Rather it was all down to my mother-in-law’s lack of ability in the kitchen. Her cooking carries a government health warning. Would you want to spend Christmas with her? No, me neither! Given half a chance my beloved would have spent every Christmas with my family – my mother used to dote on him –  with whom we’ve spent seven Christmases, the last one here in France in 2005.

It was memorable for a number of reasons. We finally persuaded my father that my mother’s forgetfulness and sudden-found shy reticence was the result of Alzheimer’s not a personality change. The newly installed dishwasher in the new kitchen sprang a leak on Christmas Eve and I had to wash up by hand throughout the entire festive season. My parents spent three weeks with us, my sisters and my one brother-in-law only stayed a week but, at the end of those three weeks, I was exhausted from waiting on everyone hand and foot. I still recall my beloved cuddling up to me in bed, the day my parents left, saying: “Haven’t we had a wonderful Christmas and New Year?” My response was unrepeatable!

I have spent a number of Christmases working – one of the perils of being in Finance. But we’ve enjoyed more abroad, skiing in either Austria, Germany or Switzerland or relaxing  in warmer climates such as Spain, Dubai and Arizona.

Since moving to France, in recent years, we’ve settled into a bit of a routine with the bikes. Christmas Eve we indulge in our usual oysters and champagne – very French! Christmas Day we dine at a local restaurant. This year we ate warm, home-made, cinnamon buns for breakfast and enjoyed a ride in the bracing air which gave us a good appetite for lunch, followed by a brisk walk along the sea-front in the sunshine. Pretty much all according to plan.

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Boxing Day, my beloved and I both went down with a gastric-flu type of bug. We were laid low for several days which left us far too weak to cycle or indeed do much of anything. It was only on New Year’s Eve that we once more felt almost back to normal, though we didn’t see in the New Year. New Year’s Day, we enjoyed afternoon tea at a hotel overlooking the sea. It was afternoon tea French style, teeny-weeny pastries with tea, not a scone in sight. We had planned to stay and watch the fireworks but after enjoying the sunshine, felt chilled as soon as the sun set. We hurried back home to a bowl of hot soup.

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We may not have logged the hoped for kilometres but we’ve gotten an early start with the New Year detox and  reorganised a lot of drawers and cupboards. The late Wallis Simpson allegedly said “You can never be too rich, or too thin.” To which I would like to add, “or ever have enough storage space.” I’m going to be busy recycling this coming week, which will leave me with a warm, self-satisfied glow.

Monsoon

Only to be expected, I suppose, after our Indian summer! To be fair, rain was forecast for this week. It started early on Monday evening followed by an epic thunderstorm, or so my beloved claimed. That’s right, it didn’t wake me thus it couldn’t have been that epic. It only started to pour again mid-morning on Tuesday, after I’d dropped my beloved at the airport. His take-off was delayed a couple of hours as the weather closed in. When it rains heavily, my view of the sea is usually shrouded in mist. Visibility was so bad, I could barely see beyond the terrace.

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If you look at weather charts for the Cote d’Azur, it’ll show October as the wettest month of the year,  not this year. That title belongs belonged to January, thanks to three solid days of torrential rain mid-month, until this week. In the space of 36 hours, the coast had up to 300mm of rain or three months’ worth! Some areas fared worse than others but the damage wrought on the beaches and in the hills was truly terrible.

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The clean up operation swung into action on Wednesday, once the rain had stopped and Noah and his Ark had stood down. It continues apace. Today’s fine, the sunshine’s back but only until Sunday, when more of the wet stuff is forecast.  Of course, rain on the coast translates into snow in the Alps. So, it’s not all bad news.

The Domaine has not remained unscathed. The scaffolding at the far end of our block, recently erected for refurbishment and repainting of the façade, remained rock steady in the high winds but no doubt put back the schedule of works which is due to take almost two years to complete. I confess the thought of having workmen peering in my windows for the best part of a year while they paint the back, side and front of our block is rather unsettling. We’re not overlooked by anyone, don’t have so much as a net curtain to preserve our modesty and rarely use the shutters.

Storm1

High winds felled a number of trees in the Domaine. Fortunately none fell on parked cars and the gardeners, who love a bit of “Chainsaw Massacre” have been wildly sawing away for the past few days. The fallen trees will be replaced with new, younger ones to preserve the parkland and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. The trees, mostly pine, I suppose will end up on someone’s open fire.

Despite today’s sunshine, care will have to be taken on our rides. The road, particularly the cycle lanes, will be full of small stones and wet sand which often masks the broken glass. It’s a bit of a minefield for tyres. My beloved is absolutely bound to get a puncture. That man gets through more inner tubes in a month than I do in a year, and I cycle so much more than him.

Despite today’s strong sunshine, the mercury has dipped a bit and I’ll be wearing my Roubaix 3/4 bib tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Winter’s truly arrived. There’s not a cloud in the sky, so I won’t need any wet weather gear, at least, not today.

(all photographs courtesy of Nice-Matin newspaper)

 

Ride Postscript: Serious miscalculation on my part, a short-sleeved jersey would’ve sufficed!

 

And finally…………………………….

Azur sky and sea but check out the snow caps in the distance
Azur sky and sea but check out the snow caps in the distance

Yesterday was one of those glorious winter days where the sky, along with the sea, was azure blue and cyclists enjoying the midday rays of sunshine thickly thronged the coast roads. After being housebound with a bad head cold for far too many days, I am back on my bike and discovering my loss of form. But no matter, I am back on my bike.

We’ve reached that time of the year when everyone is pretty much restricted by the cold to cycling along the coastal roads with the occasional shallow incursion inland. It’s what I call full-fingered glove weather. Not that I’ve resorted to the full-fingered variety, not necessary with my permanently warm as toast hands.

Sunday is of course club ride flag day and the club mates were out in force after a very wet and windy Saturday. I can’t remember the last time I rode with the club although my beloved, providing he’s not feeling too tired, will still turn out on a Sunday. But, after an exhausting few days in Paris, he was looking forward to a lie-in.  Our paths crossed with the club as they were heading back to base and we were heading out. It was a woefully small band of riders but membership is well down on those heady days a couple of years back when we were just shy of 200.

It’s more difficult to identify the various clubs during the winter months as only the larger ones, ours included, offer a full range of kit obliging those members of clubs who only have shorts and short-sleeved shirts to ride in non-club kit in the winter months. I was wearing my club winter jacket as it’s great at keeping out the wind and cold temperatures. Sadly it’s less efficient at moisture management. Unfortunately, the material tends to balloon in windy conditions making everyone, me included, look like Michelin (wo)man.

I let my beloved off the leash as it’s boring for him to have to stop and wait for me. Instead we arranged to meet for a coffee at one of our favourite pit-stops where the coffee’s great, the facilities are handy and it’s terrace is bathed in sunshine. As I cycled along, breathing in the glorious fresh air I realised just how much I’d missed my daily constitutional and vowed to make the most of the coming weeks. During the winter months I try to get out as often as possible and mix in some gym work and running on days when the weather keeps me off two wheels.

I feel the need to rebuild my base mileage particularly after several months of only being able to go for a long ride on Sundays thanks to the building works in the apartment block, thankfully now finished. The cycling programme is out and being fully embraced, particularly for the next few days. I’ll be taking an enforced rest at the end of the week thanks to a forthcoming business trip but then, I’ll be fully back in the swing. I can’t wait!

Plus ca change

I have slotted right back into my weekly routine following my return to France. The weather seems to have warmed up while I’ve been away and that Mistral chill has gone. I haven’t suffered unduly from jet lag, probably thanks to that good night’s sleep on the way back.

I’ve cycled twice this week and am looking forward to Sunday’s ride over to Menton. We tend to cycle over that way only on week ends, there being too much traffic during the week. It’s a lovely spot, albeit a bit bath-chairish: the Eastbourne of the Cote d’Azur. The ride over generally affords tantalising glimpses of the sea and coastline.

Menton
Menton

I’ve checked on the club website where, of course, there’s no mention of exactly where in Menton the pointage is taking place, I’ll just have to hope that I either chance upon it or it’s well sign-posted. I think it’s fair to say that after Friday night’s AGM, that’s one thing (among many) that’ll change in the future. Yes, I am now officially Madame La Secretaire du Club. I would like to tell you that I won by an overwhelming majority, but I stood unopposed, as did all the Committee. However, rest assured that I will not let this go to my head.

I have added yet another trophy to my growing collection and it’s the nicest yet; it doubles as a flower vase for all those winning bouquets! I suppose as there was no club championship this year I’m still the reigning ladies champion. In case you’re wondering, I am indeed wearing my Monaco volunteer trousers in the picture below. Unfortunately, none of my fellow winners weighs more than me, so I just had to grin and bear it!

Another one for the trophy cabinet
Another one for the trophy cabinet

Next week, the weather is looking a bit mixed. This will give me an opportunity to catch up with some of my more recent dental projects, the ironing mountain and my husband’s expenses. Plus, for the next 6 weeks or so, I’m going to be working out with a trainer – yes, those extra kilos are not going fast enough for my liking. She’s an ex-world class skier and sounds like she knows how to kick ass. I want a twice weekly routine to compliment the cycling and running, sorry that should be plodding given the speed at which I travel!

Soup, glorious soup

This week it’s looking increasingly as if I will have to resort to the home trainer to meet my training requirements. The weather has truly turned. Last week I was wearing tongs, linen shorts and t-shirt, this week I’m in trousers, trainers and a warm fleecy top. With the onset of torrential rain, the temperature has fallen ten degrees. The Col de la Bonette has been closed to all traffic,  thanks to the 20cms of snow covering the summit! The outlook is for more of the same.




Deluge on the Cote d'Azur

Deluge on the Cote d’Azur

Now, I don’t mind riding in the rain once the first downpour has removed the greasy diesel slicks from the road. I rode in the rain along the coast last winter and spring. Plus, I rode in the Pyrenees and Austrian Alps in the pouring rain. It’s only water after. The trick is to wrap up warmly and not stay out too long. Once your hands and feet are cold and sodden, it’s time to get back home for a hot shower and a mug of soup.


I love soup while my husband regards it as merely a starter, a promise of better things to come. I can and do happily dine off a pot of soup all week. At the moment I’m brewing up separate pots of bortsch and spicy butternut squash. Just think, only last week I was still enjoying watermelon gazpacho and chilled cucumber and mint.


 

Unobserved and unaware

It pains me greatly to say this but if I’m ever knocked off my bike by a car it is bound to have been driven by a middle-aged woman. I say this with some authority as all of my closest shaves have been with cars driven by unobservant, middle-aged women.

We’re supposed to be able to multi-task better than men but put us behind a steering wheel and we seem to lose this gift and more. Yes, we also lose any sense of spatial awareness. Girls, God gave cars three mirrors for a reason! Please endeavour to use them.

These incidents happened on roads I regularly frequent and, at this point, I should add that I’m a law abiding cyclist. I don’t jump red lights or cycle recklessly. I wear clothing which makes me clearly visible and I give plenty of hand signals. And, if you’ve seen my photos, you’ll know I’m not a small cyclist.

Two incidents happened on the very same roundabout where, from one of the eastern approach roads, there’s a very sharp, first exit, north- north- east. Incident no.1 involved a Twingo driver attempting to smoke, talk on her mobile and drive at the same time. However, not content with trying to dislodge me from my bike on the roundabout, she then tried to run me over on the ramparts of the old town, where due to the steep camber, there’s room for either one but not both of us. I managed to prevail, but only just.

Incident no.2 involved a mobile phone wielding woman at the wheel of a people carrier who, having failed to run me over on the same exit on the self-same roundabout, came to an abrupt, unscheduled halt 50 metres later as she searched in vain for a parking spot. Her startled look when I rapped on her window spoke volumes.

At the intersection of two one-way roads, I had to take evasive action to avoid being gunned down by a Berlin registered, turbo charged, Porsche whose driver (female, middle-aged with male passenger using mobile) totally ignored a red stop sign and my right of way. On the bright side, a Porsche driver would probably have been able to afford to replace my bike. Always assuming I had survived our contre-temps.

The most recent incident involved yet another middle-aged woman, driving a clapped out, red, Peugeot 205 in the on-coming direction, who turned left across my bows in complete ignorance of the road markings. Realising, rather too late, that she was about to turn me into road kill, she braked, allowing me to swoop past her bonnet, rather than over it. My front wheel met the curb stone full on (haven’t yet mastered the bunny hop) and I sailed over the handlebars to land on my right elbow and hip. I leapt to my feet, no real damage then, and checked the bike which was, thankfully, also unscathed. The woman opened the door and suggested I should look where I was going. In return, I ventured that an early visit to the optician’s might be advisable along with a refresher course at the nearest driving school as that thick white line over there gave me right of way. Having seized the moral high ground, I gave her “The Look”, remounted and rode off.

Now “The Look” is something I have perfected, along with a whole series of hand signals, to express my disgust at the driving antics of my fellow road users. However, I suspect that they go largely unnoticed as these drivers rarely glance in any of their mirrors. Nonetheless, they allow me to vent.

Not wishing to give you the wrong impression, I should add that, by and large, the drivers on the Cote d’Azur are pretty forgiving and understanding of cyclists. This may be because many of them are cyclists themselves. Of course, the solution to my dilemma may be to get many, more middle aged  women to take up cycling.