The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Monday, 6 November 2017

Thrilling!


This weekend was quieter than the last couple of weekends but I don't mind that at all. Sometimes it is good to have a lazy one isn't it. On Friday I resisted the urge to take scissors to my hair, which was sticking out all over the place, and called and got an appointment to get it chopped off on Saturday. I got my usual running around done, plus hair cut and also jammed a good 45 minutes of gardening in (so another trip to the tip this weekend), but otherwise a pretty quiet day.

Then on Sunday two friends and I had tickets to see Belcanto - a tribute to the fabulous Luciano Pavarotti - at the Hotel Kempinski in Geneva and it was wonderful. I have seen many shows over the years but I think this has to be my absolute favourite. I always loved Pavarotti's beautiful voice and this touring group - who are funded by the Pavarotti Foundation - were just so amazing it sent shivers up my spine. I am not an emotional person (stiff upper lip and all that) but at the final song, the male singers started singing and then a screen was lowered with Pavarotti singing to end the song. They had such beautiful voices it would be hard for me to chose my favourite, but one young man who was quite small in stature had the most beautiful, powerful voice imaginable, so I guess he might have been my favourite, but they were all just sensational! Quite a few people were crying at the end (even I was close) and they had three curtain calls before they sang their final encore - which was made all the more sweet by the fact that they took a little girl of about eight or nine and hoisted her up on stage with them, whereupon the first male singer got down on one knee and serenaded her, while holding her hand! And hats off to mom and dad for taking such a little one to such a magical event!





After such a glorious Sunday afternoon, I was so hyped up I went home and made a caramel-apple cheesecake to take to work. Not bad, although not being a fan of apples I don't think I would put them in it next time. Still, it has gone down very well here all the same.

The bise (wind) is blowing today which I kinda love. It makes the lake look like the ocean but of course is bitterly cold, and with the temperatures dropping we should soon have some magnificent (and slippy) sights out my office window, as they are predicting snow this week. Thank goodness I have an appointment to get my snow tyres on on Thurday. Winter draws (drawers?) on, as they say!

This is what the lake looks like today!


And shortly, it will look like this picture, taken just outside my office last year!




Friday, 3 November 2017

Acid drops!

I've been frantically busy these last couple of weeks getting huge documents prepared ready for our next big meeting in December. I don't mind at all as I kinda like the satisfaction I get pulling it all together, but that is the reason I haven't posted much nor commented on other people's blogs this past while.

Anyhow, despite that, I did manage to take myself off to a lovely spa here on Lake Geneva last Sunday. For Christmas, my youngest and his girlfriend had given me an entry voucher with "hammam" circuit included and when I realized it was about to expire in November I thought I had better get a move on. I had never been to this spa as it is relatively new but what a lovely time I had. The "public" part was a bit dark for my taste but after the first hour, when I got on the hammam circuit it was much lighter and less crowded. I did the jacuzzi, friction rub room, steam room and then headed off for a 50-minute massage which I decided to treat myself to. Gosh it's been ages since I had a massage and I felt so good afterwards - all soft and wobbly (well "wobblier" really). Not a pretty site in a bikini but ..... And of course, as someone who wasn't brought up in the lap of luxury, a bit of luxury treatment feels like dying and going to heaven.

The view from the rooftop pool over Lake Geneva

And I definitely loved the Moroccan theme inside - the exotic lamps hanging low and the beautiful metal-work tea tables. Think I might look out for something like that for my back terrace in the summer!

As I was saying, I am really busy at the moment and have worked late hours most of the past two weeks. The other night, however, I did get to watch a couple of documentaries that I thought were really interesting.  The first was on the  night of Halloween so I never got to watch the whole thing uninterrupted, but it did give food for thought. It was called something like "Who's spending the UK's billions", and was an investigative documentary into how much money was being paid to consultancy firms in times of austerity to have them show you how to save money!!! Madness right! The one part I did catch was in a small town in Wales where the local council spent millions on a consultancy company to show them how to cut back. At least the lady Councillor had the balls to appear on TV (before storming off in a huff when the interviewer asked her to justify this spending on consultants when people were being laid off).  Another glaring example was a consultancy firm being paid UK£ 60 million (I think that was the figure - as I say running back and forth handing out Halloween candy didn't help) by the NHS (the UK National Health Service) to show them how to save money!!!! The NHS is stretched incredibly thin and deserve better considering the wonderful work they do. When the interviewer pointed out that the £60 million paid to the consultants would have kept two small hospitals functioning for a year, the interviewee squirmed and tried to waffle his way out of it.

Anyway, don't talk to me about "efficiency" consultants. Sorry but I think 99% of it is a crock of shit and they just have their noses in the trough. I mean, how many of us have been on "team building" days out, tearing through the flip charts, and come away with bugger all at the end of it. One lunatic that we had got our boss to have us set up a kind of "chat forum" between us (all 25 of us!!!) so that we could share information we needed for our work. We somehow always managed to share that information at the coffee machine or at the photocopier before - we didn't need to pay some consultant $2,000 a day to come up with that brainwave, all the more since his brainchild lasted about three weeks before we went back to meeting at the coffee machine! And if you remember I talked in a previous post about the psycho boss we had a few years ago - it seems a bit telling that the first consultant we hired after she joined us turned out to be the first referee on said psycho's job application. A case of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours eh?

The second documentary was called "Saving Lives at Sea" and follows the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on their call outs. While the RNLI are a charity they refuse government funding as they want to run their organization as they see fit. So all the staff are volunteers and the RNLI is self-funded. I regularly give to charity but have this daydream of winning a largish amount on the lottery and sending them £1 million, as they would be top of my list (I have a list of about five favourite charities). They do an amazing job and are remarkably non-judgmental when they end up having to save idiots from themselves out at sea.

RNLI volunteers!



After the "Mousehole" tragedy of the Penlee Lifeboat in December 1981, where all eight volunteer crewmen drowned, I have a very soft spot for the RNLI. Here's hoping I get the next big win on the lottery then - I don't need much but would have great pleasure giving it away!

And finally, I have just started reading a book by the late comedian Kenneth Williams called Acid Drops. "Acid drops" are what you might call put-downs or pithy little retorts, and Williams was known for them. I wasn't a great fan of his and while the book is ok I feel it is a somewhat contrived collection of snide comments, put-downs and so on.  Of course I guess most people have heard of Churchill's put down of Lady Astor.

Lady Astor - "Mr. Churchill, it would seem to me that you are drunk"!
Churchill - "Madam, I may be drunk but you are ugly and tomorrow I will be sober ...."!




As I said, while it seems somewhat contrived, there are some pretty funny examples in it.  One of the better ones is an incident that happened in 1960 at the United Nations. Apparently the British Prime Minister, Harold McMillan, was talking when Nikita Krushchev erupted in fury at something he had said and started banging his shoe on the table. Without missing a beat, McMillan turned to the interpreters' cabin and said "interpretation please"! A gem!


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ouch!

For the third time since I took out my mortgage at the age of 53, I have just paid back an extra 10% of the initial sum! Ouch indeed. My poor savings account looks very sad, I can tell you!  Under the terms of my mortgage, the only time I can pay an additional amount is if I pay a minimum of 10% of the initial mortgage (they obviously don't want people doing this), so since I took out a mortgage of 321,000 Swiss francs, that means I have to save up around 33,000 Swiss francs - and it's bloody hard going obviously.

Even though I live in France (think euros), my mortgage is in Swiss francs, since the French banks want to get their hands on that lovely, stable currency! When I first signed on in order to buy my ex out of the house I couldn't put much extra away since my overheads were pretty high and I didn't know what my new "solo" overheads were going to be. Turns out he was one helluva drain (and not only emotionally)! In very short order I was able to knock around 1,000 euros off my monthly bills without noticing any discernible difference in my and my kids standard of living. It's absolutely ridiculous to live the way we (he) lived - I have been so much better off in so many ways since he has been gone. Ha! Anyway, three years ago I was able to pay my first extra 10%, then the following year the same, and now the same again for the third year in a row. I'm a bit miffed in a way because over three years I have "only" paid off an extra 99,000 Swiss francs - not that I'm knocking that of course - but an extra 1,000 Swissies would have put me at 100,000, which kinda has a magic ring to it don't you think. Still, I have been working on the assumption that I will be able to pay off my 17-year mortgage in nine years, but looking at it now it may even work out at around eight years, if I have done my sums right! And that sounds pretty darn good to me. So I am on schedule to pay the whole thing off in under three years and then I can retire. And that sounds even better! So in my depleted state, if anyone can throw me some breadcrumbs and a little gruel it would be gratefully received (just kidding - "let them eat cake" - said Marie-Antoinette never!). I calculated (haphazardly) once that I reckoned it would save me around 40,000 Swissies in interest. Not sure if that's correct - I will probably have to wait until the end to see how much I have saved - but either way I'll take that!

In other news, "ouch" was also the way I felt when I came back from Greece. I was down 7 lbs in weight but when I got back had pretty much put it all back on. Aaaarghh!!!! That Steve was a bloody bad influence, I can tell you. So, it's nose back to the grindstone and on to the serious business (yet again) of trying to shift the blubber. Oh dear! How come I can do it with money but not with the weight? Beats me!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Such fun!

On Saturday I went for my first ever lesson in cake decorating and thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I have to say it is more difficult than it looks. I have to admit I tend to be a bit "slap dash" and kinda think "oh, I've got this" and then find out that really I haven't! I ended up with quite a few holes in the icing because I rolled it too thin but for a first attempt it wasn't bad.


These are the cakes we six ladies decorated - not bad for first efforts are they (mine's the green hat in the middle)!

It was a bit hectic to be honest as I had people coming over on Saturday night so had to dash out and get some shopping in, then race into Geneva for my class, then back and get ready for our "board game evening".  A couple of years ago I had joined the local MJC (community centre, if you like) where they had a board game evening once a month. They said it started at 5 pm so I showed up at 5 on the dot, only to be surrounded by little kids playing tiddly-winks! Apparently the adults show up around 8 pm but nobody thought to let me know! I went a couple of times but as there were already established groups it was kind of difficult to integrate, although the people were nice, of course. Then last year, as we were having our annual neighbourhood clean up I got chatting with Valérie and she said how she would like to join too. Well we went a couple of times but again it was difficult to join in a group that was already used to each other, so rather inspiringly Valérie suggested we do it ourselves in our own homes once a month. So Saturday night was our first "date" at my place and though a couple couldn't make it we ended up being six in the end and had a great time.

I had bought the game "Big Mouth" where you put a kind of "mouth stretcher" in and then have to read words off a card and get your team mates to say them. It was so much fun. I got a great video of Isabelle trying to get her husband to get the phrase but I'll be buggered if I can get it to post. Still, here are a few pictures anyway! A great game if ever you need to liven things up a bit (but watch out for the drool)!

Isabelle
Valérie
Debbie




Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Psychopath Next Door .....

.... is the name of a book I read a couple of years ago following the appointment of a new head of HR in the large corporation where I work. I obviously can't go into specifics but to say that she was a ***+***++  ***+***++@@ would probably be an understatement! I am lucky I guess in that I rarely sense office "tensions" and "sensitivities" so they hardly ever bother me, but in this case - good God alive - even I couldn't miss it! The terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" are used interchangeably by many, but for me "psychopath" seems to be the more "depraved", for want of a better word. Of course not all sociopaths are evil nor are they criminal but ....... They say 4% of the population are sociopaths, or 1 in 25, so it seems to me that I must be a bit weird never to have realized I was dealing with one before this "gem" came along. As I read this book she lept off the page to me constantly - it was surreal, to put it mildly!

This woman was such an extreme case that even I couldn't fail to see it. Sociopaths are supposedly lacking in any empathy or remorse, which is why they often make good business managers - they are willing to do whatever it takes in the name of the almighty dollar, and to hell with anyone that gets hurt (as long as it's not them)! It also seems to me that they would make good surgeons and the like (for instance) because I guess no-one wants an "emotional" surgeon operating on them do they? Anyway, the She Devil was totally devoid of any talent or competence but with an opinion of herself that must almost have made her head explode. 10 of us filed a complaint against her whereupon she made our lives very, very difficult while scratching and clawing to save her empty soul. It wasn't just us of course - most people in this corporation hated her and we therefore had tremendous support behind the scenes pushing ahead with our complaint. But the price we paid in terms of our physical and mental health was appalling. It is significant that - as far as we know - she was fired from the last four jobs she held and is more than likely continuing in the same vein given that a leopard never changes its spots!

Since coming across so blatant a psychopath that even I couldn't gloss over, I have been absolutely fascinated by them, to the extent that I have just finished another book by M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) who is apparently a diagnosed sociopath. If you are interested in this, it is quite an eye-opening read! (I suppose I must have looked like a bit of a nutter on the bus reading this too, come to think of it!)



The main characteristics (in a very small nutshell) are lack of empathy, lack of remorse, an opinion of themselves and their skills which rarely has any correlation to reality, an enormous sense of entitlement ... and the list goes on and on! Of course, just like autism, there is a spectrum and I suppose we are all on that scale to some degree or another, but if you ever have the misfortune to end up dealing with someone like we did, this book is an absolute revelation!

My dad used to call them "the wise boys", with their fancy qualifications who used to fly in to a company, throw everything into upheaval, destroy the staff's health and mental stability while wreaking havoc on the company itself, and then fly off leaving a trail of destruction behind them, all the while chalking up another notch on their CV. So if you ever see the mad witch on her broomstick flying over your house with her long blond hair trailing behind her - run for your lives. She is worse than something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe and she just ain't worth it!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Giggling schoolgirls!

There is a free newspaper available here in Geneva every day called "20 Minutes". You can always find a copy on the bus or pick one up at the bus stop. I usually don't bother reading it but this morning I didn't feel like reading my book so I grabbed a copy of the 20 Minutes to read. Ha! In yesterday's post I mentioned that we had visited the local exhibition centre on Sunday for the "Creative Hobbies" fair. Well yesterday, they had a practice drill at said exhibition centre to put police, firemen, first responders etc. through their paces in the event of a terrorist event. Apparently it involved over 700 people, and while I'm sure the "hostages" were all volunteers one chap said what a really weird feeling it was with people hiding wherever they could and some feeding information on the "terrorists" to emergency services on their phones. Uughh, it's the kind of place that wouldn't have many hiding places to be honest, but the thought of getting caught up in something like that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Having watched another episode last night of "Saving Lives at Sea" (the fabulous RNLI volunteers in the UK), I can only say how eternally grateful we should all be to our emergency personnel!

On another note, and still on the bus this morning, there were two sets of schoolgirls who giggled non-stop from the time they got on until they got off about 20 minutes later! I don't knock 'em because I was one of them many, many moons ago. Oh, how I remember sitting with my friend Vanessa at about age 15 and giggling all the way into town. We must have driven people mad but whadda ya wanna do? That's what schoolgirls do!

I remember one time I was going to compete in a swimming gala and Van was coming into town with me to watch. In those days you got a paper ticket before you got on the bus (if I remember right) and occasionally an inspector (we called them "conductors") would get on and check that everyone had a ticket. Well Van and I were giggling away and she would fold her ticket, then bite down on it with her teeth, then fold it again, giggle some more and so on. Eventually a conductor got on and asked for our tickets. I had mine of course, but she looked up at him all horrified and just said "I ate it!" And I confirmed to him that she had indeed done just that! He must have been so baffled he just let her get away with it and didn't charge her for another ticket!

Then another time, I was sitting with Van on the bus coming home from college. We were sitting on the side seats and I had my arm bent at the elbow hanging on to a support pole. Anyway, a man got on and accidentally stood on my foot.  As he leaned over to apologize to me a stream of drool came out of his mouth, went down my sleeve and pooled in the crook of my elbow. I didn't want to say anything in order not to embarrass him but trying not to giggle with her tittering away by my side almost gave me a coronary!

Another time we caught the late night bus from town back home around 11 pm on a Saturday night, I guess. Of course in the UK we have the double deckers and this particular route had a nasty left turn over quite a sharp bump which made the bus really keel over to the right (since we drive on the left in England). We always sat up top at the back on this particular route (being connaisseurs of that left turn) and this particular night a man who was a little bit the worse for wear sat in the seat immediately in front of us. Well he must have dozed off because when we went round that bend he fell right off his seat and landed on his backside in the middle of the aisle! On hearing our stifled guffaws behind him he turned round and glared at us and said "I suppose you think that was bleedin' funny don't you?" All we could do was say "Who me? No, not me, I didn't think that was funny at all, did you Van?" and then try to stifle our giggles for the rest of the way home.


And finally, one day as we were on the bus going to college, Van was sitting nearest the window and I was sitting in the aisle seat. It was fairly crowded but there were still some seats further up the bus. Eventually a man got on and stood right next to me, leaning up against my left side. I didn't say anything but Van tried to shuffle over nearer to the window, so I followed suit. She then tried to shuffle a bit more but obviously there is a limit to how much you can "shuffle over"! She was again trying to stifle her giggles but I had no idea why, until the man got off and she said "he does that all the time, stands right next to a young girl and rubs himself up and down on her arm!!!!!!!" He had already done it to her so she knew what I was feeling (frankly at this point I could almost tell what religion he was). After that we looked out for him and would break into fits of giggles every time he got on the bus. I only hope he knew why we were laughing, is all I can say. Oh happy days .......

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

This and that!

What a glorious weekend that was. Perfect autumn weather and temperatures with just the right mixture of relaxation and getting out and about thrown in.

I have mentioned before that my friends and I frequently go to the theatre to watch what is a very good and very large anglophone drama group. They put on some fabulous stuff and we get to watch plays and musicals that we probably wouldn't otherwise get to see. Simply Theatre is the kids group - ages 18 and under - so when I saw an ad for their latest show - The Magic Toy Shop - my friends and I booked for last Saturday. The show started at 17.30h so we figured it was going to be the younger kids performing, but in fact it turned out to be a simple two-man show, but which was excellent. The main protagonist, "Charlie", went to the magic toy shop as he wanted to be come a wizard's apprentice. The wizard - who conveniently enough was looking for an apprentice (how about that for a coincidence) - decided to set Charlie some tasks to see if he was worthy of becoming his apprentice! It took place on the small stage at the Academy itself and as people walked in Charlie and the Wizard greeted everyone and somehow managed to make a running list of the names of all the "important" people - i.e. the little kids - as they walked in. They called out to the kids by name asking for their help and put on what turned out to be such a great little show. We were the only ones without a little kid with us but it was so, so worth it. All the more so for me as I had a real little giggler sitting next to me and it was a joy to listen to her!


Then on Sunday, our local town held, for the first time, the Foire des Loisirs Créatifs (Creative Hobbies' Fair, I guess). This Fair was usually held in either Lyon or Grenoble but apparently having it in my local town was a roaring success, by all accounts.  Here's hoping it will be repeated. Not exactly a big Fair but good nonetheless. Rather foolishly I bought myself a couple of cross-stitch projects. Goodness knows when I will get time to do those but they were so pretty I just couldn't resist. And, being goody two-shoes, my friend and I decided to walk there and back so got in a 90-minute walk to boot.


In fact, the ladies from my patchwork group were exhibiting some of their work there also and it really was very impressive!

On a totally different subject, a colleague hopped on the same bus to work as me this morning and we got chatting, as you do. Her mom and dad are over from England for three weeks and she was telling me that the neighbours' kids (aged about 7 or 8 I think) asked if they could "borrow" dad to take him to school for show and tell! Dad went along very happily, said there were some "bright little buttons" in those classes and was delighted to be prize exhibit no. 1 as the "funny little foreign man". I told her she should have sent her mom in too as her mom is German, but they thought  "one funny little foreigner" was probably enough for one day. He was really tickled when the kids asked if we had wild animals in England - he should have said yes, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! But I thought it was great that he went along with it all so willingly.

Which got me to thinking ..... year ago, my husband's nephew mailed to us here in France a "flat Stanley" (only this guy was "flat Justin" - for obvious reasons). For those that don't know, flat Justin was a school project that the kids sent wherever they could to friends and family all over to see how far he could travel in the given length of time. In our case flat Justin was about 4 feet tall and folded up nicely into an envelope to make his travel plans easier. We took flat Justin down to our favourite local restaurant and got the owners and kitchen staff to pose, somewhat emabarrasingly, for a photo with flat Justin before he was sent back to his home in Pittsburgh. Aaah, the things you do for kids eh!

Flat Justin