Trendsetter, moi?

A flying visit to the UK last weekend for some much needed family catch-up time was lovely. It literally was a flying visit as we got the plane (those drugs are still coming in handy see previous blogs). A bargain fare with Ryanair was too good to ignore. 

We also hired a car to get us to Suffolk, London and Oxford. The hire company tried to persuade us to upgrade the car we’d ordered, we had typically chosen the cheapest vehicle to save money but also we didn’t need that Qashqai we were being offered, only for the company to give us a free upgrade anyway. My advice stick to your choice they often don’t have the cheapest vehicles as they are the most popular choice so you’ll be quids in.

A visit to London is always an opportunity to visit Pappagones Italian restaurant, the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy I think, always good quality food. A slight mistake to visit on a Friday night though, it was understandably busy to the point of being overwhelming which unfortunately took the edge off the experience. My advice of visiting this fab place is to choose wisely so you’ve got room for their amazing Banoffee pie. (Lots of advice in this blog you lucky lot).

Oxford was beautiful as ever, I never tire of seeing the colleges and yes it’s busy but worth it, especially when you’ve got great company. It was definitely a day of fun and giggles and more importantly time with my daughter.

An early start on Sunday as we headed back to Stansted airport and the flight home. Doom laden Facebook posts telling of 100km winds in our area sent my anxiety levels sky-high. I duly took my calming tablets but they seemed to be taking their time to work. Fortunately and another piece of advice; don’t believe Facebook posts, it was a calm flight with no turbulence and definitely no gales to greet us on our landing in Perpignan.

Anyway the real point of this blog was really about picking up a Sunday newspaper on our way home, we haven’t read the Sunday Times for nearly 3 years and yes I know we shouldn’t be lining Murdochs overflowing wallet any further or reading such biased papers but we did. I finally got to read Style this morning. It was always my go to section of the paper so I was looking forward to browsing the pages, but yes you’ve guessed it, what a load of tosh. With fashions that no one in their right mind would wear, to a ridiculous article claiming you should adjust your beauty regime to match your menstrual cycle (seriously WTF) and a suggestion to part your eyebrows (yes you’ve read that correctly) so you can make them look like a feather (easier to stick a feather above each eye if you really want to look a fool). But there was one tiny snippet that shows I’m still ahead of the game, palm painting, this is where the hairdresser freestyles putting the highlights in your hair with his/her hands and my lovely French hairdressers have been doing that to me for the past couple of years. So I’m still trend setting from the sunny slopes of the Pyrenees Orientale.

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Slinging in Singapore 

Singapore was our original (and first) destination of our holiday. The first thing that strikes you once you’re out of the airport is the heat and humidity, it’s overpowering. Air conditioning is an absolute must but even that barely touches the heat at times, everywhere you go you’re looking forward to the next air conditioned area just for a brief respite. My nicely coiffed hair went from sleek and shiny to a frizzy mess within hours, no amount of hair conditioner or coconut oil could tame the suddenly wild locks, any attempt to look chic and sophisticated disappeared immediately. But enough of my hair issues what is Singapore like?

It’s clean, bright, full of modern architectural wonders and busy, very busy. It’s a place that awakens and overpowers your senses, there isn’t a journey that doesn’t involve constant head turning and exclamations of ‘look at that’. We were only there a week but I cannot imagine that you’d ever get blasé about the sights. The incredible Marina Bay Sands complex Singapore - Marina Bay Sandswith a giant surfboard atop which has an elegant and expensive bar, as well as an infinity pool and goodness knows what else was the first place we visited and even on a hot and very rainy day (note photo is not of the rainy day) it didn’t fail to impress.

I didn’t mention the rain did I? Oh my goodness can it rain. It was like standing with someone pouring bucket after bucket of water over you for up to an hour and longer. One day when we decided to go out on our own exploring we rejected the offer of an umbrella. Big mistake. On our way back our 10 minute walk left us wetter than if we’d just jumped in the river fully clothed.

Aside from all the glitz of the gleaming new buildings there is some character, Chinatown was especially exciting, full of shops and stalls, brightly coloured and selling everything you could imagine and crucially at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. As a bargain lover I was in my element. Yes of course there’s tat but there’s also plenty of beautiful things to buy too, plus I got my supply of Tiger Balm (the best thing for all aches and pains, coughs and snuffles).

Yes Singapore is expensive, there’s no denying it. Alcohol is almost(!) prohibitively expensive. One of the exceptions to this is public transport, that is good value and as you would expect very efficient. The other exception is the Hawker stalls selling glorious food at silly prices. As lovers of good food we went to the only Michelin recognised hawker stall for lunch, we queued for nearly an hour (this was the only stall where there was a queue) and watched as the food was freshly cooked, then expertly chopped up to be served on paper plates when you finally got to the front of the queue. Some customers waved their arms in celebration as they finally got served their meal that they had been patiently waiting for. Was it Michelin quality food? I’m not sure, it was excellent that is certain, it was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully cooked so if that’s the criteria that Michelin looks for then yes it is. We loved our meal, that was what was important and we can certainly tick off that as one of the Michelin restaurants we’ve visited and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. And best of all the total cost for both our meals….$4.50 the equivalent of about £2.50.

Of course no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel for cocktails. We loved it. It’s a beautiful colonial building, with friendly and efficient staff and it delivers what you expect, a tasty drink, in classy surroundings with a touch of authenticity.

Aside from the food and of course the joy of spending time with the family other things that were amazing were the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, both these places were stunning. Filled with plants, animals, sculptures and of course lots of people. We took the most photos in these places, everywhere we looked there was something exciting to see and the grandchildren clearly loved visiting them even though it was probably the umpteenth time they’d done so in the short time they’ve lived there.

Would we visit Singapore again? Whilst we’ve got family there definitely yes, otherwise no. It’s a striking place and we’re glad we’ve been but it lacks a soul. It is a large business district essentially that has areas, beautifully designed and executed areas, for pleasure but it isn’t a holiday destination in my view.

Oooh la la

It’s been 7 weeks since we finally got the keys to our place in France and it has in some ways gone very quickly but when I look back at all we’ve done it doesn’t seem possible to have fitted so much into a short period of time.

Christmas was amazing. Both my daughters were here and I had the best Christmas ever, and that’s not an easy thing to do as they are always wonderful. It was great to have them around to get to know their new home from home, to help us settle in and just to relax and enjoy the lifestyle. We were even exceptionally lucky with the weather, it was warm enough to eat Christmas lunch outside!

Apart from having the family over we’ve been very busy getting settled in, dealing with french bureaucracy and discovering the area. There are definitely treats to see and do at every turn.

LIfe is certainly very different here and definitely different in a good way. Of course the compromises we’ve had to make is the distance from family. Technology helps and the very generous telephone  we have that means calls are free, so there are no excuses for restricted contact. There will be challenges I know and days when the distance will seem longer than other days but we will find our way to keep the distance as short as possible.

One thing that we have had to ‘force’ ourselves to do is to join a local group to embed a social life for ourselves. This is not something I find terribly easy, more for the unnatural way of forging relationships than for any other reason. However it’s a necessity in the short term and we shall hopefully soon be attending quiz nights, improving our french and hopefully meeting like-minded people.

We have met lovely local people, from the kind central heating engineer, to the lovely old lady at the boulangerie. Everyone with just one exception has been helpful and patient with us. That one exception is my challenge, I am using all my years of experience at disarming unpleasant people and I’m determined that one day soon I’ll get a pleasant smile from her.

Keep reading for further updates……..in the meantime here’s the view from the top of our garden image

A house is not a home

I wonder if I am somewhat unusual but when we moved out of our house a few weeks ago I did not have the emotional response that perhaps would be expected. I had lived there the longest I had ever lived in a house, I had brought up my two children there, divorced, married again, welcomed a step-family into my life and had so many wonderful times there that it seemed odd that I wasn’t in floods of tears as we drove away from the house for the last time. In fact in many senses I had a feeling of relief, not necessarily that I was leaving but that we were leaving it in the hands of another young family, who could and should get the best out of the house as we no longer needed the space that it had and we rarely used it to its advantage in recent years as the family had grown up.

I have lived in so many places in my lifetime and I don’t think of any of those houses as a home, they were places to be, to return to and hold the material things in life. A home is wherever I am with my loved ones and even when we are not together, the home and the feeling of home is very much in my heart. It is not four walls but it is a feeling of love and being loved.

Home is a word that instantly conjures images of a house with loved ones around and laughter echoing around but those things can and do happen whether there are four familiar walls around you or not.

Home when my Mum was alive was a house that I never lived in but it was always filled with love and laughter and each time I drive past that place now it reminds me of those lovely times.

However whilst we are searching for a new house I know we are looking for somewhere where our family will think of as home from home for them, somewhere where they can relax, somewhere where they can be themselves, somewhere where they know there is love.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I am sitting downstairs whilst my loved ones still sleep enjoying my first cup of tea of the day and feeling reflective.

Changes in life are taking place, some imposed, some naturally occuring, which makes it a good time to remember what is important. From my previous blogs I think it is clear that the most important thing in my life are my loved ones; my husband and children, step-children and grandchildren, family and friends. Yet one of the self-imposed changes may involve moving further away from some of them to realise a long-held dream. The connundrum has always been whether that is the right thing to do, to be selfish in the pursuit of new challenges and an idyll that is held in my thoughts like a snow dome you shake occasionally to reinvigorate the beautiful scene. I don’t have the answer and will never know as whatever path I take there is no knowledge of what would have happened if I had strolled along a different route.

All I can ever be sure about is that wherever I go and whatever I do my loved ones are wrapped tightly in my heart.

The naturally occuring changes in life are those changes of just getting older, with another birthday in a couple of days as I reach that middle point in a decade. I am now going to be poised at that point when I am about to leap headlong into my late 50s and can no longer be considered to be in my early 50s. Age can be such a defining thing. I do not feel like I am in my 50s yet my body keeps reminding me that it is with those other naturally occuring changes that cannot be ignored. For all my attention to eating well and paying attention to my health, there are some changes that cannot be halted, we just learn to adapt and accept the consequences.

I like change, however, always have. I relish the challenges it brings and the reinvigoration.  So whilst I may be reflective about the changes ahead I can be sure that I will find pleasures to enjoy in the challenges so I will blow out the candles on my birthday cake, make a wish and go headlong into the unknown with a smile on my face.

Out with the old

As another year draws to a close I reflect on the past twelve months. As someone who hates fairground rides this years roller coaster has certainly tested my mettle. The good times have been many however with lots of fun and happy memories, from great holidays in Northumberland and France, to family times, to meeting friends (old and new), great nights out and fabulous gigs attended. Many of those wonderful moments are captured not just in my memory but also in photos taken over the year, with stunning pics of views, people and things that have made me smile.

There were awful times as well, losing my youngest brother all too soon was a time that is hard to bear and share but even during those darkest times having the love of family and friends to see you through means that the memories of that time are also tinged with a sense of joy. The saying that you only know your true friends when things are tough is surely the truest of all sayings.

So what does 2014 bring. Who knows? I would never have predicted some of the things that occured in my life in 2013 so I will not attempt to for this new year. I do know that whatever it brings if I continue to have the love and support of those I had this year to share those times with, it will increase the joy.

Happy New Year, wishing you all love and happiness for 2014

Je ne regrette rien

I read a recent article about a palliative Nurse who has written a book with the top 5 regrets of those that are dying. It made for sad reading. The things that people most regretted were not things that might be on a ‘bucket list’ (Oh how I hate that term) that might cost lots of money or good health to do, but simple things like keeping in touch with friends, saying I love you or conversely saying I don’t love you, not working too hard, being happy and being true to yourself. Do we really live our lives trying to please others so much that we forget to live the life we want?

When I was in hospital recently a lady in the same ward had only weeks to live and she went through her address book each day making the difficult call to her friends to tell them of her imminent fate. I so admired her, she wasn’t going to let her friends find out by accident or to meet a family member sometime in the future and have to hear it that way, she took control and bravely told those friends that she was dying and gave them the opportunity to see her one last time. She did not want to pass away with a regret of not saying goodbye but I also think it was a way of protecting her family and unburdening them of the painful task after she had gone.

It is so easy to forget to tell a loved one how much they mean to you yet it is so easy and quick to do. I never leave the house without telling my husband that I love him and in his half-awake state he reciprocates. Would it matter if we forgot to do that occasionally? Probably not that much as we don’t need to say it to know it but I always feel better for saying those 3 words. I do the same with my children, it is important to me to remind them how much I care.

As for keeping in touch with friends I am awful at it, I really am. I have lost count of the number of friends that I just forget to call back or send a Christmas Card to. Do I regret it? Not overly. I do not collect friends for the sake of having lots. The friends I really care about and want to keep in touch with are the ones where we BOTH make the effort. Except it isn’t an effort. It will be something that I think I must tell X about, or I have just seen something that will make Y laugh, and we will pick up where we left off.

I have blogged before about working to live not living for work, so my thoughts on that are crystal clear both here but also in the office. I know that my family, my life and I am far more important than work. I work hard when I am there but I do not compromise the important things in life for the office.

I am not planning on leaving this world for many a year but it is good to remind yourself that you are living the life you want and that you have no regrets. And as for a ‘bucket list’, if you live the life you want the material things that often appear in these lists will be far less important in my opinion.

So go on, live a life you want to live with those you want to share it with, be happy and you won’t have regrets.