Tuesday, 30 December 2008

New year -new layout

I have been experimenting with a new layout as I think a year of looking at the same colour scheme is more than enough! I will be playing around over the next week or two until I find something that I like.

Shopping

Ian and I managed one visit to the sales which as usual were a great disappointment. We sat in traffic for 20 minutes and then Ian wandered round Maplins, Comet and PC world while I looked in Next, Marks and Spenser and Debenhams. There were no bargains and nothing worth buying that we needed but we did notice that the new stock in the stores seemed much more expensive; probably a result of the abysmal value of the pound which is now virtually the same as the Euro.

I bought a pair of shoes, Ian bought a tee-shirt and that was about it!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Journeys

Yesterday morning at 7.00 we were in the Alps, looking up at the clear sky as the sun slowly came up, trying desperately to de-ice the inside of the car windows and pack our things.

The mountain air is challenging. It bites into your lungs, sears your skin, turns your hair and nails dry and brittle but if you can survive it you feel the benefits to your system over time, so despite the fact that I have ached, fallen over, bruised myself and generally felt exhausted I feel calmer, less stressed and now, after a week, much fitter. Interestingly my normal joint pains have almost disappeared.

We drove down the mountain in the dawn and by 11.30 we were passed Dijon and heading up towards Calais and England. We got back to London at 9.30 pm UK time and I felt a strange sense of unreality. How could we be in the Alps in the morning and then back in the city a few hours later? I felt quite unsettled! I have had this experience before when travelling and was telling a colleague who said it is when your spiritual self and your physical self have not quite caught up with each other.

Meanwhile, our physical selves were subjected to a dreadful lunch in a French motorway service station. As we were not in a hurry we decided to join the French in their exodus off the motorway in search of lunch. If I was ever under the illusion that the French were fussy about food and that all French food was better than English food it was well and truly put to rest yesterday. The queues were long, the food cold and oily and I ended up taking it back. The second attempt was not much better! We vowed never to do this again no matter how hungry we were!

To replenish our spiritual selves on the journey Ian tried to find an open D.I.Y. shop. However, as it was a Sunday they were all closed, so we stopped off in Reims and visited the Cathedral!

Getting in the last run

For the last couple of days away the weather turned a little colder and we were back to wearing layers of thermals, although the sun still shone brightly all the time. As usual, by the final day I was feeling less sore, fitter and finally could remember the point of skiing and how to do it (except this is what always happens and then when I return a couple of years later I have to start from the beginning again!). I wanted to get the most out of the final day but as I am not at my best in the morning and I also offered to walk the dog before going, I didn't get on to my skis until just before lunch time. The days are short this time of year and by 4.30 the sun sets fast and the temperature drops quickly. I took these pictures while I was waiting for Ian to finish (as he went off to do some more difficult things..)






I rather liked this tree as it got covered in a layer of ice over night which refused to melt all day, even though it was exposed to the sun.








This is the view looking up one of the main slopes at the end of the day, with everyone rushing to do their final run of the day!

The final picture is the view down the valley into the setting sun, from where I was drinking my hot chocolate!





Friday, 26 December 2008

The end of the turkeys

The turkeys were cooked and eaten yesterday and they tasted pretty good. No sign of food poisoning yet! Christmas day was spent opening presents and then we went for a leisurely ski (although for me even a gentle ski leaves me feeling knackered!). In the evening we had a few flakes (flocons) of snow to accompany our Christmas dinner. The only down side is that my coccyx is still bruised after falling off the chair lift the other day making sitting down a bit uncomfortable.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve and here in the Alps there is brilliant sunshine and blue skies again. As predicted I was as stiff as a board today and even getting out of bed hurt, so I didn't do too much. Ian and the others went off to do some high tech skiing and I settled for a couple of runs on my own just to get moving. The best bit was that I managed two conversations on the chairlift in French. The first was with a man from Paris who has a small studio here and visits regularly; the second was with a ski instructor who told me that he was in London two years ago when Le Grand Depart came to London. He was Paul Sherwin's (ITV4 commentator) driver from the London to Canterbury stage so as we were marshaling on Westminster Bridge he would have driven by! I sometimes think that everyone that I talk to in France has something to do with the Tour. The other topic of conversation that all the French people seem to enjoy talking about with the English is the value off the pound against the euro. As my instructor yesterday said 'welcome to the real world!' I think that there is a feeling that we have had it quite easy for many years!

We all met for a late lunch and I returned back to chalet after while the others went off more skiing.

This is the view from the balcony this evening....

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Another day on the slope

Another lovely sunny day; almost like spring skiing. Coming off a chairlift this morning I locked my skis around Ian's and fell on my bottom, so now sitting down is rather uncomfortable and I think that tomorrow I will be rather sore! (After that with any luck my stiffness will subside to be replaced with a more supple and lithe body!). My lesson was good and I managed to go down a red run for the first time, only falling when I was standing still! My instructor could not explain why that had happened after I had come down a steep slope! (In the summer he is a keen cyclist and he cycled up the Col de la Columbiere in 31 minutes. Ian took 50 minutes and I took 2 hours!)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is more of a celebration in France than the 25th. We hope to watch the 'decente en flambeau' tomorrow evening, when all the ski instructors ski down from the top of the mountain with lighted torches.

My nephew is doing an ice sculpture outside for his art project and we are awaiting dinner!

Sun and snow (and falling over at 50)

The first day of skiing passed without too many serious consequences! The snow is good and sun and mild temperatures are forecast so yesterday was great for treating my full spectrum light deprivation! I only looked like a complete beginner for half a day yesterday although have still forgotten how to turn properly and so ended up on my bottom several times; the most spectacular involving my skis ending up over my head and a 10 metre tumble down hill. I discovered that getting up once down is a real challenge!

The sun is shining, my legs ache, I have a lesson booked at 2.30 and the slopes beckon so I will be brief!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

In need of coffee

Ian logged on in the Eurostar terminal and found a customer relations address so decided to complain and ask for a free cup of tea (we are easily satisfied!). This is his email and the reply.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Sir,

I am currently sitting in your departure lounge because an earlier crossing has been cancelled. While I understand you have operational issues at the moment, this has happened the last two times I have travelled with you.

It would have been helpful to have reflected the delay on your website in the latest travel information section. I was also surprised that your staff in the terminal building did not have vouchers available for a complementary hot drink.

Yours faithfully,

Ian


Dear Customer, Thank you for contacting the Customer Relations team at Eurotunnel. We are always keen to receive the views of our customers, and the feedback we receive is important to help us improve our service to you. All emails are responded to individually by a member of our team and you will receive a full response within twenty-one working days. For your reference, emails sent to this address are managed between 09.00 and 17.30, Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays). Kind regards Eurotunnel Customer Relations .

Not much help to us then in getting a cup of tea!

(PS. Titan's sister is called Alexandra)

(PPS. I don't know what is worse, James Blunt or Christmas Carols)

Eurotunnel and conspiracy theories

Well, here we are back in the waiting area at Eurotunnel waiting as yet again we are delayed although this time apparently not by enough to warrant free coffee and tea. Time then to write some more about conspiracy theories and the Eurotunnel fire on September 11th! Several things don't add up...
1. The fire was bigger than the previous one several years ago and did more damage and yet it was relatively under reported. All we have seen of the repairs is a very edited programme on the BBC.

2. The burnt -out trucks are still property of the French police and under strict guard.

3. Normally after such a fire there would be interviews with truck drivers and passengers that were involved but there has been nothing so far; not least we have heard nothing from the lucky driver of the vehicle that started the fire who apparently escaped unhurt.

4. After I published my last conspiracy theory blog my site was 'visited' by Eurotunnel.

5. A free cup of coffee will stop me from writing more!

(To add insult to injury we have just been joined by a noisy family who's eldest child is called Titan! The sounds of 'Titan come here!" are echoing around the terminal.)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Saturday before Christmas

What is it about Christmas in England that makes grown men walk around B&Q wearing a Santa hat (and he wasn't an employee!). Yesterday at work we did a group teaching session with staff and students wearing party hats and listening to a tape from Top Gun! (The Christmas Carols CD had been taken to someone else's workplace). Ian said he chaired their business meeting yesterday with them all wearing party hats as one of his colleagues is Portuguese and had never seen Christmas crackers before!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Turkey Tales

The turkeys arrived on time. I had warned all the office staff of their possible arrival as I thought if someone turned up with a turkey they would think it was a joke, but as it turned out I walked out of my office to go upstairs and saw a DHL man arrive with a parcel.

"You wouldn't be the man with my turkeys would you?"

"Well, only if your name is Lovely"

"Well, it is as it happens; lucky I caught you"

"Well, when you said have you got my turkeys I thought you were joking! I didn't know that's what was in the box! Have a good Christmas!"

and with that he handed me the box and left!

The turkeys spent the night in the industrial fridge at work and now they are unpacked and in my fridge and waiting to be moved down to London for the next stage of the journey.

Tomorrow we have another Christmas dinner with Ian's mum, sister and niece and then our family duties are over and on Sunday we hit the road with the turkeys!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Cause and effect

The main story on BBC news tonight was that British Troops will withdraw from Iraq by next summer. The second story was about the state of the economy and how it is going to get much worse. I couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a direct relationship between the two.

I have never supported the notion of troops in Iraq anyway so any reason for them to leave is fine by me, but the cynic in me says that the withdrawal at this point is more to do with the cost than ideals. At least if the country is really poor they won't be able to afford to invade Iran or Pakistan or other such nonsense.

Tale of two turkeys

We are off for our holidays soon and unlike last year we are not spending Christmas running up and down the country but are driving down to France to ski in Le Grand Bornand with my brother and family. We are looking forward to it. As Ian said in an email to my sister -in-law, "there has been too much grey here! "

Tomorrow two turkey crowns are being delivered to my workplace. I must find a way to keep them fresh on their various journeys from work to home, home to Ian's and then in the car all the way under the Channel, down through France until they finally arrive at their Alpine destination three days before Christmas Day. If we all get food poisoning I will know why!

Monday, 15 December 2008

More progress

The builder has been in touch and it seems that the roof structure arrived last week and the roof should be progressing in the New Year, which sort of suggests that the walls are now finished. Ian will need to go out for a meeting in the New Year to check on progress and consult with the builder. So, although slow, work is progressing.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Understanding technology 3

This weekend has been spent trying to work out how to install Office 2007 on my Eeee and still have enough memory left for the thing to work. This has now been accomplished and Ian is in the process of re-building his laptop for reasons that I don't really understand!

Understanding technology 2

My sister is a novice to the world of technology having spent most of her adult life teaching fitness. Recently she had to attend a remedial driving course (or pay a fine and have points on her license for doing 50 miles an hour in a 40 mile zone). This involved using a computer with a mouse and she said she ended up with her arm so far over to the right that she fell off the table!

However, times are changing and together with the Nintendo Wii-fit you can exercise from your laptop. You can check her out her on-line lessons here!

Understanding technology

We watched a programme Friday called the IT crowd on Channel 4 and as Ian has been a life-long IT geek he found it quite amusing. In the show the office manager had been voted employee of the month and had to do a speech to the shareholders. As she was pretty incompetent she asked the IT geeks to write something for her and as they disliked her they decided to set her up. They convinced her that the Internet was something portable and gave her a black box with a flashing light on it to present as 'the Internet' and then sat back to watch her look stupid..only the whole thing backfired as the shareholders at the meeting also had no idea and were convinced that the Internet was something that you can carry in black box!

Although we laughed it is a sad fact that there are many people who commission IT services (in places such as the NHS) who also have about as much knowledge! On a more basic level, one of the IT support staff at work got called to assist someone who was doing a PowerPoint presentation and couldn't get their memory stick to work. When he arrived they were trying to insert it into the Ethernet point! (Ian has also been asked where the any key is).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Choices

I have just watched a programme about assisted suicide. It received a lot of attention as for the first time on public television they decided to broadcast someone in the act of killing themselves. The man concerned was intelligent and logical and was in the late stages of motor neurone disease, with very limited mobility, requiring a respirator to assist with breathing and loosing his ability to swallow fast (independent swallowing being an essential component of assisted suicide). His wife and family were very together and supportive and the whole thing seemed very logical. Watching the actual suicide was not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be and the death seemed peaceful. What did make me feel a bit uncomfortable was that through this deeply personal act there were advertisement breaks and I wandered in and out of the kitchen doing the washing up. I somehow thought the programme and I should have been a bit more respectful.

The other thing that occurred to me is that if you are rich you get choices and if not then you don't. The whole procedure was not cheap and I also imagine that the cost of this man's care before his death was not cheap either. A portable respirator, expensive wheelchair etc would all be above the reach of the typical uninsured American as would the flight and accommodation in Switzerland. So if you are poor then you don't get to choose to die when you want but you die much sooner because you can't afford the treatment to prolong your life.

Karma

I was away from my office today and tried to phone in but couldn't get through. Later on I tried to access my email and the website but all were down. This evening the website came back on with a message about a power failure.

After my gentle warning from high about the blog yesterday I call it Karma!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Shhhhh secret squirrel 2

It seems that the way to manage health and safety man is not to manage him but to manage the people around him, so I guess it was no surprise today to be called into the office and told that I could be in trouble if health and safety man read the Blot and recognised himself! As I have never identified him or the place of work I feel that this is unlikely that this would be the case. However, I am already beginning to feel that my ability to express my true views in relation to health and safety man is becoming more and more restricted as the popularity of this page has increased and as I do not wish to have to censor my ideas anymore it is with much regret that I announce that details of health and safety man and his exploits will no longer appear on this particular blot.

I wish to announce however, that a new and totally uncensored blog will be created dedicated entirely to the topic of health and safety man and other antics at work. However, this will be a secret blog and access will be by invitation only! Do leave a message if you would like to be on the list!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Shhh.. secret squirrel

All workplaces have a health and safety man equivalent. In Ian's place she is called 'head of unimportant things' and so to compensate likes to make sure that everyone realises exactly how important she is. Ian is not considered a proper worker as he is that breed known as a 'temp' or a 'contractor'. As this breed has grown considerably, a few weeks ago they were moved to a brand new office with new desks. Non proper workers don't get the same automatic privileges and rights as proper workers, such as basic equipment, access to all the rooms, subsidised lunch and access to international phone lines. That is fine except that Ian needs to be able to make international calls to do his job and in his old desk this had been negotiated. So..you would think it would just be transferred to his new desk wouldn't you? Well, no, a new desk apparently means the whole thing has to be requested and authorised again! And.. this service and any communications about are so secretive and important that even mentioning it to anyone or, heaven forbid showing anyone else any correspondence about it is likely to be punishable by death! So..be warned!

This message contains information which may be confidential. It is intended for the addressee(s) only. Unless you are a named addressee (or authorised by an addressee who received this message), access to this e-mail, or any disclosure or copying of its contents, or any action taken (or not taken) in reliance on it is unauthorised and may be unlawful. If you have received this e-mail in error, please inform the sender immediately.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Mistaken identity

As the blog is open to anyone to read I have always taken care to change or omit names before writing anything about people and hence 'Ian' is a pseudonym; except I write about him in the blog frequently and now I have started calling him 'Ian' in real life. He is not amused!

Christmas is coming

Christmas is on its way and much to Ian's annoyance I put up my Christmas tree this weekend. It is a pretty poor specimen of a plastic tree and a few lights but I couldn't cope with the idea of pine needles all over the floor and it was easier to go up into the loft than to go out and buy and tree.





I also iced my Christmas cake. I mentioned before that I am cultivating the art of mad and eccentric cakes and this counts as one of them!



Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wandering in Brussels

I had an interesting day in Brussels, if a little bit on the long side as Ian was working until 6.00. After an hour and a half of looking around the much hyped Christmas market (about 20 wooden stalls with novelties) and the shops I decided that there was nothing much that I wanted to buy (why spend £10 on a chocolate Santa..OK I know it is nice chocolate but would anyone I know really be able to tell the difference). I had my first hot drink in a health food restaurant as I was desperate to use the toilet and Brussels seemed to have a lack of public ones. After that I wandered some more around sparkly arcades with and took some pictures of the unusual Christmas tree decorations.





As you can see this one was made of mirrors! Lunch was beckoning and I had a yearning to try one of those nice looking tarts and so settled on a little coffee shop. It was full of older women sitting at tables by themselves having coffee and cake. My French has come on enough to understand the conversation between an older lady and a couple at another table. She struck up the conversation and after a talk about the weather she told them that her husband was now dead and she lives on her own but tries to make the effort to come out every day to talk to people. After lunch I wandered some more and took a photo of this cyclist! Just nearby a meals on wheels van was delivering its' fare .





After lunch I did more wandering...and began to get a bit tired. I longed for somewhere to just sit! As it was Monday all the museums were closed so I wandered up to the Cathedral. It was warm and inviting, with nativity scenes around the chapel representing all the ethnic communities in Brussels. I sat down and found myself drifting off to sleep for a while until the priest interrupted with a short prayer for all those who had lost their homes! I was surprised to see how many people ran out of the Cathedral at this as it is after all what the building is about and it was pretty inoffensive. Perhaps the priest thought I was one of the homeless as I was beginning to feel that way with 3 more hours to wait and nowhere else to go! My next walk took me past the main railway station where I looked at a few shops and then 'rested' again in the waiting area! I really did begin to feel like a down and out as the street dwellers came in to finish their cans of beer in peace and the man who looked like he was suffering from the side effects of his anti-psychotic medication came to beg food!


A final stop in another cake shop passed a bit more time and then I headed towards Le Grand Place where I was meeting Ian later. It was dark and the 'Electrabel nights' show had started with coloured lights projected over the grand buildings in time to electronic music from steel speakers in the square.



At this point Ian said he was on his way and it started to pour with rain so I popped into a nearby restaurant, ordered a beer and sat and waited for him!
So my experience of Brussels was interesting! I understand why they invented all those beers, I got a feel for what it must be like to have nowhere to go all day and I realised that the world is full of lonely people.




Monday, 1 December 2008

Brussels

Am writing this from our hotel in Brussels. Ian has gone off to work so I have the day to play and shop, although the grey drizzle makes it a little less than inviting. We arrived yesterday. Eurostar arrives at Brussels Midi, which is just outside the centre and the home of a very large ethnic market on Sunday morning that was reminiscent of Whitechappel market in London. Orientating ourselves out of the station is always the most difficult job and it took us 20 minutes to work out what direction we needed to go to get to the town centre. We decided to walk as it is usually the best way to orientate yourself to a city. As we approached the city the buildings got a little bit smarter and by this time we were both really hungry so we went into the first available restuaruant that looked half decent! It seemed quite reasonable and the food was OK and when we looked closer we saw that the customers were either tourists or gay men out for breakfast!

After lunch we walked briefly around the town centre and then we decided to walk out to the hotel ('not much further than we have already walked' according to Ian). The route out of town took us through the Arab quarter of town with little shops selling all sorts of exotic vegetables and lots of 'cafes' that were men only places involving mint tea and backgammon (and a space away from the family). We witnessed Brussels driving first hand when we saw a Passat collide into the back of another car and then hit a parked van (he had seemingly failed to notice the wet roads and the slow traffic in front of him). The road was definately quite long and mostly up hill! My feet were aching and we were in need of a drink and with some relief we reached the hotel; basic but clean and with internet access in all the rooms but other than that not much going for it!

We reflected that all big cities, no matter how glossy on the surface, have their run down ends where a lot of the imigrant populations tend to live and in many ways we could have been anywhere, in London, Paris, Zurich etc.