The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Are you a tortoise or a hare?

Things at work have started to calm down now that my meeting is done and dusted. I am now working on another report that has to go to translation in January but at this point we are actually well ahead of the game. Work and traffic is quiet as schools are out and many people have extended their Christmas holidays, so I am actually quite enjoying getting ahead. Christmas is prepared, presents wrapped and I know what I am making on Christmas Day (not turkey for a change, I hate having to make a specific dish for a specific day so I have decided instead to cook rack of lamb plus potato gratin, plus a few other sides). After Christmas I have my friend coming over from England for a few days, so hence the reference to the "tortoise and the hare".

My house has been getting me down as it is pretty cluttered since I seem to be the repository for everyone else's junk, and while I keep it clean it honestly could do with a good scrub. Logic seems to suggest it is better to get rid of stuff and then clean, of course, so I am trying to do a little bit at a time. However, with a 40-hour working week and a minimum daily commute of three hours, as you can imagine I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to start cleaning when I get home from work.  My ex was the kind to throw everything out of a cupboard/room, charge into it and keep going (and yelling at all and sundry) until it was done. The problem with that, of course, was that apart from the fact that the urge to clean didn't come over him too often, being an ex-Marine he used to bark orders at everyone since he seemed to think everyone should pitch in and be "available" and at his command. My feelings are that if I feel like doing something I just get on and do it, that way it is not really a chore for me. Plus I stop when I choose to and just do a bit more another day. I am out on a Monday night so on Tuesdays and Wednesday I have been spending up to an hour each night scrubbing/pitching stuff in the kitchen. UUUUUGGGGHHH you wouldn't believe the state of the extractor fan - you know, on top the bit you can't see unless you are 6ft 8! Yuck! I climbed up a ladder to change a light bulb and could see just how grimy it was, so I spent one hour one night cleaning the top and one hour the next doing the underneath. Then another night would be a specific cupboard and so on, and if I felt like quitting in the middle of it I just did - no-one was there to yell about it. I have the Marie Kondo book on decluttering and while I think she is madder than a bag of rats I have to say I respect some of her methods - it's just that they are not for me. (In any case, someone who has made so much money - presumably - telling people how to declutter can't exactly be that mad can she). So bit by bit I am getting stuff done and in reality it doesn't take that long to see progress.

Other than that, there hasn't been much new here. I went to my son's school the other week to see him pick up his plumbing diploma (so if anyone needs a fully-qualified plumber give me a shout). Glad I made it actually even though it was very low key. What did strike me though was how respectful the young lads (and a few girls) were towards their teachers - it was so nice to see. Jordan will be doing another two years apprenticeship to qualify in heating/air con installation so then we will really be talking (and hopefully making a bit more money, but I am pleased for him all the same).

In other news, the Russian National Ballet are giving a tribute performance of Ravel's Bolero in February here in Geneva so I bought tickets for that. I also enrolled for a one-time evening class on how to put together a vegan buffet, also taking place in February. It's funny really, because as I would like to lose some weight before the wedding in July I have been looking at the Dukan diet and that seems to be strongly based around eating lots of protein/meat - and here am I going on a vegan cookery course! Oh the irony! Here at work quite a few people lost a fair amount of weight on that diet but to be honest most put it back on too. Not sure I can stomach it but I will see how I feel in the new year. I'm also not sure I would be that drawn to a vegan diet either to be honest, but vegetarianism is something that has always interested me. Indeed, I actually gave it a shot a couple of times many years ago, and I have to say I felt wonderful on it - and then went off to England to visit family and screwed up with the "full English breakfast" trap! I might give it some more thought though depending on how motivating I find this course.

Last weekend I got up on Saturday and thought "hey, I don't actually need any shopping, I don't feel like doing anything" so I decided to do bugger all and just lounged about on the sofa all day and read - and you know what, it was great! It is something I have never really allowed myself to do - take a day "just for myself", but in the end who do I have to answer to anyway? Actually slobbing around for a day is fine very occasionally for me, but not something I could do very often as I tend to get ants in my pants. That being said, it was a rare treat - I must remember to do more of it!

So on that note, if I don't post again before Christmas I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2017.  I had wanted to mention the atrocities in Berlin yesterday but what can anyone say anymore about such barbarity - or about Aleppo (those poor, innocent civilians), or about ...... wherever these monsters work their evil. In fact, I have a colleague/friend who retired to Nice a couple of years ago and she was actually in a beach front restaurant when they killed all those people on Bastille Day. In order to get back to her apartment she had to walk past all the dead and injured - of course the horror is still with her and will most likely remain so forever!

So stay safe and my best wishes to everyone for the new year.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Looks can be deceptive!

On Sunday I went over to visit my oldest son and his girlfriend as it was Lily's birthday and I had a gift for her. So I finally got to hear a bit more about the wedding plans - no thanks to my son though of course! What is it with young men, or maybe just men in general? I mean, we women can probably natter about anything for hours but do you think he has told me anything about how the plans were going?  It turns out that they have booked a venue not so far from where I live (about 40 minutes I guess). They had wanted to book something in Switzerland but the cost was prohibitive (no surprise there then) so they have booked what looks like a renovated barn complex and very nice it is too. In fact, I know that area quite well because "in the day" we used to take our camper down to the Parc National des Bauges every second weekend to go fishing. Good times actually, as we made friends with quite a few French couples who kept caravans there all through the season so that the men could spend as much time fishing as possible and the women seemed quite content just taking walks or chatting. It was pretty nice for the kids too as there was a well-thought-out camp site where they had the river and park to play in and plenty of friends to run with. Then of course they got older and didn't want to come with mom and dad any more so that kinda put the kibosh on that!!!

Les Bauges
In fact, on New Year's Eve 1999/2000 about five couples from the fishing group came up to our village where we rented the village hall and had a fancy dress party. You ain't seen nothing until you have seen two fat, elderly French fishermen dressed as Asterix and Obelix!

Anyway, I digress, but as Lily's mom will be dressed in traditional Korean dress, I have to come up with something to wear that is also somewhat formal. Question: I have seen the most beautiful dress but it is silver and I'm not sure that that would be appropriate to wear to a wedding. I know only the bride is supposed to wear white but I'm not sure about silver. I suppose it would be ok if it was jazzed up with a colourful shawl or something, and come to think of it Lily did actually show me an outfit she liked for me and that was pale grey, so maybe it is a possibility. Oh and I just need to lose about 15 kg too - forgot about that minor detail! Thankfully I have some time but right now the blubber isn't exactly falling off or disappearing subliminally!

I tell you what though, AndrĂ© is pretty damn lucky he has Lily organizing this (what on earth did we do before the internet?) as she is a natural organizer and obviously enjoying it - well for the time being at least. I have offered to help but she seems on top of everything for the moment.  AndrĂ© has also seen the most gorgeous suit which is pretty darn expensive, but as it is Italian we were both nagging him to drive down to Milan (the home of fashion!! and only about four hours' drive away), and check that out too. I mean, with the recent referendum in Italy the euro took yet another hit so it would be to his advantage to either look there or, indeed, fly to England for the weekend and look around.

Lily mentioned that they had booked someone to come over and do hair and make-up on the day and that "I should feel free to come over". I hadn't even thought about that, I mean, I did get my hair done the day I got married but it never occurred to me to have someone do my make-up! (Yeah, tell me I'm sounding like a dinosaur - I know).

Talking of "make-overs", many, many years ago, when said dinosaurs actually did still roam the earth, I took six months leave from my job and back-packed around Australia (wonderful time - the subject of another post I suspect). Anyway, I was just 24 and my friend and I were in Brisbane waiting for the next bus going further north to our next stop. Trouble was, we had about three hours to wait so since we were in the city centre my friend suggested we had a shufty round the local department store and get a "free" makeover. Of course the aim is to get you to buy their products but we did get the makeover. Well .... we were both young, in shorts and T-shirts and lugging backpacks - and we came out looking like two hookers! You know, pile it on with a trowel and strip it off with a blow torch kinda thing. We both dashed straight to the nearest loo and washed as much of it off as we could but heck, it took some scrubbing!

Photo by Cindy Sherman
I have a lovely colleague who took a month off to do a course at the London school of make-up so she offered to give me a free tutorial since, as she pointed out, she needs to practice too! So she did my make-up the other day during my lunch break and hey - I didn't look quite so bad. It's amazing what can be achieved in the right hands isn't it! And it does bring it home how so many celebrities might not be quite so stunning if they didn't have the help of make-up artists, stylists, hairdressers, back-lighting and good old photo shop.  To be honest though, there is such a "fashion" now for the ultra-white (false) teeth, the hair extensions, botox etc. that so many look identical. Shame really, because the most interesting faces (in my humble opinion) are the ones that have a bit of character to them. Ah well, I'd better be off to see if I can re-produce what my colleague did - wish me luck!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Slum Britain

Did anyone see the programme on TV the other night called "Slum Britain"? I found it so very sad but also very thought-provoking.  Fifty years ago, photographer Nick Hedges went round Britain taking photos of families living in poverty in various cities around the UK. Birmingham was probably what interested me the most (although not necessarily the most soul-destroying) because that is where I grew up and I knew some of the areas he had photographed. I believe he was commissioned by Shelter - the organization working on behalf of homeless people - and the programme took a look, where possible, at the current lives of some of the children from those photographs 50 years ago to see what had become of theme.

Photo by Nick Hedges
The living accommodation (if you can call it "living") was dire - damp, cold and over-crowded, and of course many, not yet having access to contraception, had large families, with ever-more kids coming along each year and often no way to take care of the ones they already had.

I was born in inner-city Birmingham in housing somewhat similar to that portrayed in the film Billy Elliott. It was nowhere near as appalling as that shown in the Hedges' photos of course, but cramped and depressing nevertheless and our home was, in fact, bulldozed as a slum when I was three years old. I obviously have very limited memories of that home but I do have some (I remember describing things to my mom once and she was stunned that I could remember so much detail!). 

Billy Elliott
We were moved out to a council estate to what, in comparison, must have looked like a palace to my family, with four bedrooms. Even then, in the six terraced houses in our new little block there were 40 kids! How our parents managed to keep us all fed and warm is beyond me (but I suppose on the positive side, we always had someone to play with).

Dad and Judy (down the "old end")
The overwhelming feelings I got from watching the programme was of hopelessness but also stoicism. As one man put it, "yes we were poor, but then so was everyone else and we knew no different". I understand that absolutely. Another sad, but very telling comment, was that in those days everyone pulled together and there was a sense of community, which is sadly missing nowadays. But I think the comment that struck me the most was that where previously people were short of "stuff" today people are short of "hope"! That really hit me.

They highlighted the case of a few of those "children" (now adults) whose current situations were pretty dire. At first it annoyed me somewhat because in some cases they were drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and had pets (one was even shooting up) and I thought if they could afford all that how come they were using a soup kitchen? But as the programme went on I got a better understanding of how - when you remove just one brick from that security wall - the hole thing comes down and your life and future can be lost just like that. In fact, someone recently mentioned to me the movie "Cathy Come Home" which gives a vivid portrayal of just this.

Another man described how he had skipped school, joined the army and worked hard at every job he subsequently had because there was "no way he was going back to that"! 

I have always been interested in these kinds of issues. I remember reading a book called "Around About a Pound a Week" which (and I paraphrase) detailed a survey of how people in the 1930s (I think) in similar circumstances as described above tried to manage on "around about a pound a week", with the inevitable large families and poor housing. One of the salient points, to my mind, was that the more they were able to afford in rent (i.e. live on the ground floor), the less likely they were to have to live in dank, depressing basements, and hence the less likely the children were to get sick (and possibly even die) - the catch-22 situation!

I also read sometime ago (and I can't for the life of me remember the title of it) a book written by an American journalist as she tried to survive on minimum wage jobs in several different US states (for six months, I think). The biggest take-away from that book was that, as with the English survey mentioned above, accommodation was pretty much the deciding factor in who would survive and who would go under, because if you couldn't afford a kitchenette, you couldn't cook for yourself, so were more likely to live off junk food and hence more likely to get sick and so on and so forth. Depressing stuff I suppose but something that fascinates me.

Every week when I am shopping I pick up a few items for the local Red Cross-run food bank, and when I have a case full I take it down there when they are open on a Tuesday night. I am also the treasurer (i.e. I have a little tin with the "takings" in) for our second-hand book store at work and occasionally we meet to discuss where we would like to make donations to. (Last time we were able to fund two wheelchairs in Peru for an organization close to a Peruvian colleague's heart). I suppose because I work in such a wealthy city as Geneva the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" is more striking, although I'm sure the same could be said of any big city, to be honest.

I am hoping to retire in three-four years time (when my mortgage is paid off) and I am already giving thought to how I would like to spend some of my time working with these kinds of organizations. Many of my colleagues already work voluntarily with various aid groups here in the region so I will have opportunities to see where is the best fit for me (they are currently working with local refugee groups - of course - a battered women's refuge, a local soup kitchen, two orphanages in Uruguay and I am slowly introducing the idea of working with the food bank in the small town where I live).

I actually had an idea for another post in my mind today, but watching this programme last night really brought home to me how someone only has to lose just that one brick in the wall and the whole lot can so easily come tumbling down!