Tuesday, 20 March 2007

A Royal Visit

Today I met Princess Ann. I guess it is not everyday that you get to meet a member of the Royal family and it is not the first time that I have met her as she is the Patron of our professional association and attends many functions on our behalf. I don't what people imagine meeting a princess is like, but in practice it is about as uneventful as it can be. We have to arrive a little early and are supposed to abandon our most casual clothes in favour of something a little more smart. We have to sign in and prove who were are but apart from that the morning proceeds as normal, except just before she arrives there is a bit of tension and hesitation as the speakers look out for the sign that she is about to enter. As she does, we must all stand. She gave a brief speach; not one she had pre-prepared but one she had thought up on the spot. We were then whisked off to stand in small groups to be introduced. Unfortunately I needed to go to the toilet desperately at this point and almost breached protocol by nipping out to loo before she got to us! There were about 60 people in the room and she met, shook hands with and talked to everyone in about an hour. I thought that was pretty good going! We talked about how difficult it is to undo modern containers and I told her how my mother takes her jars into the greenhouse and uses my fathers old vice to open them. The meeting went better than the last time I met her! She turned to me, looked at my name badge and said 'So you are from Trumpton (sic)' and I was overcome by nerves and said 'Oh..how did you know that?'

Monday, 12 March 2007

Tour de France

The Tour de France starts in London this year. The first day is a time trial around all the sights and the second day is a road race from London to Canterbury. It is 117 miles and last week they advertised a road ride the week before the tour, following the route. It cost £40 to enter and there were 5000 places. They sold out in a day! Ian and I were thinking of doing it but it seems we hesitated for too long! (Well it was a bit far anyway). We will have to make do with watching it and a more gentle bike ride. I was staying in the town in the Alps that hosted a Tour de France finish in 2004. It was a great day. People were 2-3 deep along the last kilometre. We stood outside in the baking heat all day while the various cars and processions went up and down and eventually the tour bus, the troupe of sponsor cars and caravans, paraded through throwing out toys and souvenirs for the children to fight over. The excitement got more and more tense as we waited for the leaders to arrive and eventually they arrived and were gone as quickly as that! I didn't even get to see who won! (It was Lance Armstrong as usual!)Watching the rest of the riders in various degrees of pain as they pushed up the last climb was more interesting, although even that was over in a matter of seconds. After we went to get something to eat and then struggled to find a taxi to take us the 4 miles or so (up the mountain) back to the chalet as all the taxis were booked weeks in advance. The picture above is the one picture I got of Lance Armstrong. He is in the yellow top!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Prodigal Son

Joanna's son surfaced a few days ago, although it wasn't quite the happy ending she was hoping for. He and the girl were arrested and charged with mugging, so Joanna had to spend a long night with him in custody. He is now home and according to Joanna is learning that he has to live with the consequences of his actions. She says that she feels that he is coming back to her and I really hope that is the case. The 50 year old man is in custody for having a sexual relationship with a minor.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

View on the way to Brighton

On a spring or summer morning this is the view on the way to Brighton

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Italian Family

My sister-in-law is from an Italian family and although her mother lived in the UK most of her life and married and English man, she passed down a strong sense of her Italian roots. Sadly she died a few months ago and nothing could have brought home her Italian Catholic background and contrasted it with her English life more sharply than her funeral. It took place on a cold winter morning (as all funerals do) and was dramatic from the start. My brother called me at 11.00 the previous night and asked if I could bring my mother as he had found he had a house full of Italians who needed a lift. The Italian family knew it was their duty to send a representation and three men arrived from their village near Rimini. They were of varying ages from late thirties to fifties and arrived in their jeans, warm jackets and sun glasses; (although it was cold it was sunny). There was apparently a family drama as my sister-in-law's mother had specifically said that she didn't want a full burial mass as she didn't want to think of all the congregation bored and cold. The priest was not happy and whether it was because of this or some other issue, some family members or friends had been excluded from the service and told not to come. As my sister-in-law's mother arrived (I realised I never knew her first name until the priest read it out during the service) the three Italian men walked forward, picked up the coffin from the hearse and carried her in to the alter. As they placed her there they crossed themselves and shed their own public tears. I realised then why they had been chosen as the family representatives as they were the most able to be able to undertake this duty. After the ceremony we went to the cemetery. My mother and I were desperate to wee but with no toilet in sight we climbed over a fence and went on the edge of the cemetery, unfortunately not quite far enough away from some graves. I hoped the dead would understand out needs! The priest, who was waiting with us for the arrival of the coffin, realised what we had done and thought it was quite funny. At the burial ( I had never been to one before as most non-Catholics are cremated) my brother seemed a bit shocked to be handed something that I assume was holy water to sprinkle over the grave. After the burial we went to a hotel for some food. I couldn't talk much with the Italian relatives as I don't speak any Italian and they don't speak English but it was somehow a bit reassuring to feel that we were almost related.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Baths are cheaper in France

Baths are cheaper in France; at least that is the excuse that Ian made, for us to spend a weekend shopping in French D.I.Y. shops. (DIY is ‘bricolage’ in French, which I think sounds much nicer). We left on the 5.00pm ferry on Friday night and by 8.30 French time were tucking into a three-course meal with wine for little more than £12.00 each, at our hotel in a place called Wisques, about 3 km from St Omer. We have stayed there before and liked it as it a bit out of the way; the restaurant is good and it is run by a friendly French couple. Wisques would be a tiny hamlet if it wasn’t for the two Benedictine Abbeys of Notre Dame and St Paul which are on either side of the village. Both seem to be inhabited and St Paul’s seemed positively buzzing, with its own visitor’s car park. It must be one of the few still able to survive these days. (Mind you, the monks around there seem to have spent a lot of time brewing beer so maybe that is why!) Saturday daytime was spent between Calais and Bolougne, in various bricolage places looking for baths, heaters, taps etc. After an exhausting day we drove over to visit a friend of Ian’s who lives in the Somme. Jacques-Paul lives with his girlfriend Madeline in a house that he built himself, together with various animals. All of us sat on the sofa together, humans and animals; while Ian and Jacques-Paul discussed the merits of various tools, sealants, fillers, ways of constructing walls and the price of houses in England and France. After lunch the following day we drove back to our hotel ‘the long way’, through the fields of the Somme, past countless cemeteries and memorials to soldiers killed in the great war. Every time I have been to that area it has been grey and wet and all you can see are miles and miles of fields and sky. I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been to have been stuck there, wet, cold, knowing you were probably going to die and missing home. However, when the sun comes out you see the same birds as there are in Sussex and the villages look charming and inviting. Jacques-Paul was telling us that there are parts of the Somme where the farmers still can’t deep plough because the earth is full of human remains.