Housekeeping Secrets along the Road

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           Any lengthy foray into Europe requires aspects of domestic life to be undertaken; there is no getting away from it. Laundry, cleaning, shopping and [depending on circumstances] a degree of food preparation and cooking are all part of an extended expedition.
Luckily most sites offer the necessary facilities for such mundane household tasks as washing clothes and bed linen, with washing machines and driers commonplace-for a price. In spite of this we travel with spares for bedding and towels. We also have a line, clothes drier, pegs, washing capsules and hand-wash detergent. How organised we are!
Vans are equipped with fridges [ours will function perfectly well for a couple of days without electric hook-up] although they are seldom as large as in the average kitchen, so we supplement it with a cold box and aim to shop every 3 or 4 days, which often, though not always coincides with moving from one destination to another.
We don’t leave home without a basic ‘store-cupboard’ of ingredients; mine include: mixed herbs, English mustard powder, Oxo cubes, peppercorns, gravy powder, olive oil, cornflour, tomato puree, tinned vegetables, pasta and rice. We take industrial quantities of tea bags owing to the poor quality of ‘Liptons’ from which 2 bags are necessary to make one, weak cup of tea. Anything else is widely available in the supermarche.
Wandering around a French supermarket doesn’t feel too much of a chore as long as certain aspects are understood. A trolley needs a euro coin to be released; we are fortunate to possess 2 plastic, pretend euros that for some inexplicable reason we call ‘sniglets’, given to us at ‘La Chaumiere’, a Flanders site that is unique for a number of reasons. The supermarket car park must be accessible by van [ie no height barrier] and must have enough space. We look for an area where other vans are parked. Then we ascertain whether fruit and vegetables must be weighed and labelled before the checkout, as nobody wants to arrive with half a trolley-load unprepared.

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Larger ‘hypermarkets’ will often have large vats of delicious concoctions such as paella that can be bought and re-heated. There will also be huge fish counters with mountains of mussels, melancholy crabs and lugubrious lobsters as well as acres of assorted cheeses. So there is never any need to go hungry-

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At the boulangerie a modicum of restraint is always required. Some days we allow ourselves a pastry. I attempt to confine myself to croissants but am inclined to succumb to the pleasures of ‘pain au raisins’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ [Husband’s favourite] on occasion. The French have a proud tradition of ‘artisan’ bread and the array of different types of baguettes or grands pains can be confusing.
Last [but not least] is the beer and wine supply. I confess to being a lightweight these days and may choose a single bottle of white for myself. Husband favours ‘Leffe’ beer and red wine. In these alcohol-enlightened times, even in France the supermarkets are beginning to offer ‘sans alcool’ varieties, which can be very good.
Intermarché, Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefor, Super-U and the ubiquitous Lidl. We wonder what their British equivalents might be? Leclerc would seem to be the equivalent of Sainsbury’s, Super-U more of a Tesco?
For many the demands of shopping and preparing meals while away would not constitute a holiday, but they have not sat outside on warm, light September evenings with beautiful views, sampling the produce that is on offer. And when we feel like it-and the location provides a choice of venues [as last night] we dine out.

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Close Encounters with American Tourists

I wrote about our meagre experience of Mexico in last week’s post, explaining that there were no negatives in that small, tourist-friendly slice of the country.

Mexico, however has a troubled relationship with its next door neighbour, the USA and more so than ever since The Donald made his debut as premier in America. Americans are unhappy that Mexicans enter their country.

Americans, on the other hand seem more than happy to visit Mexico. The narrow strip between the lagoon and the ocean at Cancun that is crammed with hotels housing tourists is full-to-bursting with Americans, weekenders. Before departure I’d thought that our chosen hotel was vast-that is until we arrived and saw the array of gargantuan tourist inns stretching along the beach in both directions.

Nevertheless our own, seemingly modest accommodation boasted five or six restaurants, seven or eight swimming pools, numerous bars and terraces and the inevitable beach front with thatched sun shades over sun loungers.

My feelings about the American tourists are, I’m afraid ambivalent. On the one hand they are open, friendly and gregarious. ‘Wheer ya fraaam?’ they shriek from their sun loungers as you stroll past on your way to the beach, inviting us to respond with far-fetched replies. On the other hand their conversations are loud and designed for all to hear. In the lobby bar they become garrulous with increasing amounts of alcohol. They demand high standards from the hotel staff, which benefits everyone but their consumption is a spectacle to behold.

Here is the flaw in the all-inclusive deal; the temptation is to over-consume. We rein in, eating only twice each day, taking only what we will eat. A glance around the dining rooms reveals how much is wasted, piled on to plates to be discarded by the waiting staff, meanwhile the girths of so many tell the tale of their many-caloried intake.

Then there is the on-going sun lounger dilemma. On the first day we wander down from brunch in an innocent bid to find a patch of shade to enjoy a quiet read-but each and every place is reserved by a body or a beach towel. We retreat to a shady area of tables by the ‘Sushi bar’. Next day we are up early, like the Third Little Pig beating the wolf, dashing down to the beach to bag our own small patch. If you can’t beat them, join them. At seven o’clock the number of unreserved sun loungers is already depleted but Husband returns triumphant, having draped the beach towels and anchored them.

‘Please refrain’ says the hotel information, ‘from the practice of placing articles on sunbeds in order to reserve them. Security personnel have been instructed to remove items left longer than two hours’.

We scan the beach for signs of the sun lounger police but spot nobody-neither in uniform nor disguised in beach wear. Nobody is going to mess with the Americans, wall or no wall-nor will they be turning their backs on the not inconsiderable sums they bring in revenue!

Now there’s a cheaper option than a wall, Donald-just buy Mexico and be done with it…

Always Laugh when you can-[Lord Byron]

Laughter, it is said is good for our health. There are also studies that show that sense of humour declines as we age [http://www.belmarrahealth.com/why-your-sense-of-humor-fades-the-older-you-get/].

During a recent programme on the radio a psychologist explained that laughter is fundamentally a means of communication that demonstrates a connection between people. It is true that once you are with someone like minded who shares your sense of humour there is an escalation effect. Years ago [in working life] I attended a drama course which required us to pair up for some activities. Whilst I’d never met my ‘partner’ before she and I became helpless with mirth within moments and continued in this vein for the remainder of the day, no doubt irritating the pants off the course leader.

While I understand the communication element there are plenty of times when I’ve laughed whilst alone. What does this signify? On occasions a book will make me laugh out loud. A particular sequence in a novel called ‘Are You Experienced?’ by William Sutcliffe had this effect on several of us as we underwent a group tour in India. The narrative describes a Bollywood movie showing on a bus and provoked me to tears of hilarity. I am also addicted to YouTube videos of funny animals-one of my favourites a compilation that includes a hen riding on a broom as it is utilised and a particular sweep causing her to lay an egg. For me, even watching alone, the comic effect is undimmed by repeated watching!

I could never have become an actor, since corpsing would be my downfall-was my downfall in working life; meetings were a special source of difficulty. I’ve never lost a particular weakness for slapstick and have an unfortunate tendency to dissolve into hysterics during Punch and Judy shows or anything aimed at children, often discovering I’m alone amongst a mainly po-faced audience.

Alcohol and of course, cannabis are well known to loosen inhibitions and elicit laughter. Years ago at a party I realised too late that I’d over-indulged and was lolling on the host’s lawn convulsed with a fellow reveller when I heard someone nearby asking what their companion would like to drink. ‘Whatever they’re having’ was the reply.

Making comedy is hard. Only comic genius can provoke mirth without seeming contrived. We all have our favourites; ‘Not Only but Also’, ‘Monty Python’ and ‘The Young Ones’ were some of mine, but the sit-com has had its day and many great comedies begin life on the radio. It is all subjective, but big failures for me are manufactured comedy panel games [with the exception of the wonderful ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ and ‘The News Quiz’-both radio offerings] and American rom-coms [my least favourite genre]. In these times of spontaneous video, YouTube and sharing on social networks comedy is becoming more difficult than ever. What is the future of comedy? And what tickles you?

Do What You Like

I am amused by a news article declaring that the latest cohort to come under attack from the health police is the middle aged. Apparently this is due to their unhealthy life styles. They work long hours, spend hours on their commutes and then mitigate the ensuing stresses of their days by glugging down copious glasses of wine and lolling on sofas watching box-sets whilst dipping into bags of Pringles or pressing pause only to order a takeaway pizza. Shame on them!

Lucky me, then that I am past middle age. In fact, as I recall I became my most active and healthy during those years, despite having a busy, stressful job and being a single parent etc. I’d have to hold my hands up regarding the wine consumption, which was not modest-but on the exercise front I’d have won a lot of points. Not only was I undertaking DIY on the hovel I’d purchased but also attending exercise classes, following a slavish regime of aerobics videos and running each and every day. I was a virtuous paragon and the only pity was that there was no Facebook or Instagram or whatever to enable me to ‘Map My Run’ and brag about my achievements.

If that exercise regime gave me anything it was an ingrained awareness that regular physical activity is a necessary component of a comfortable life-even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The difference now though is that the activity must be dictated by what is physically possible. In other words, running and leaping around in an aerobics class are no longer options due to failures of joints and general decrepitude. Instead I indulge in pursuits that a] I am able to do and b] I enjoy.

Exercise crazes come and go with the wind. Once upon a time I threw myself into aerobics, embracing the entire Jane Fonda/leggings and leotard package. The next big thing was Step-Aerobics. Again I became snared in the allure of leaping around and up and down, attending  3 classes each week, unaware of the damage I was doing to my hips, knees and feet but thrilling to the appeal of the ‘horseshoe turn’ and its accompanying, fancy moves.

My aversion to tepid water has been blogged in a previous post, hence swimming is ‘out’. [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/when-you-know-you-are-out-of-your-depth/]. But I can still treat myself to a twice weekly dose of dance with the ever-popular Zumba and have learned to love walking, whether accompanied or not, although I am in a constant search for the Holy Grail of all walking shoes; a pair that eliminates all vestige of arthritis, plantar fasciitis, corns, bunions and the rest. How unglamorous bodies become in older age! I’ve documented my late entry into the world of Yoga [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/sensual-slow-and-unsupple/] and recommend it for anyone hoping to stay fit and mobile for as long as possible.

I eat vegetables √ I’ve replaced a lot of meat meals with fish √ I’ve cut out sugar √ I’ve all but cut out alcohol √

So now, reader, I fully expect to become immortal. I’ll keep you posted.

Trolling Through Norway

I can’t recall the last time I visited a European country for the first time. [I say ‘European’ advisedly, owing to the fact that ‘Europe’ has come to mean a variety of things in these times; but here I’m using the word in the old, traditional sense-that of the collection of countries immediately surrounding our own, squidgy little UK.]

I have not ventured much into Scandinavia, except four or so years ago to Denmark, so this expedition to Norway is a new departure. I love to see new places. I want to know what grows, what people do, what their homes are like, what they like to eat and how they fill their leisure time. Here are some conclusions I’ve made about Norway so far:

  • The country consists almost entirely of rock, water and trees-with a bit of farmland and a few cities thrown in.
  • Owing to these constituents it is an obscenely beautiful place-that is for fans of snow-capped mountains, vast lakes, cascading waterfalls and gushing rivers. If your preference is for deserts, shopping arcades and uniform rows of parasol-clad beaches I suggest it is not for you. Go to Dubai instead.
  • The weather is a little capricious. It is capable of warm sunshine although this cannot be guaranteed. You might say the changing weather patterns are part of its charm.
  • In order to get anywhere by road you have to accept that tunnels and ferries are a huge part of the deal. There are nearly 1000 road tunnels and more than 100 ferry crossings plus numerous bridges. Some of the tunnels are spectacular in themselves, housing junctions and in one we encountered a fully-blown roundabout, all lit up in blue like a spaceship.
  • Pizza and hot dogs are ubiquitous and popular offerings getting an enthusiastic take-up by travellers and locals alike. This was told to me before departure by my friend Anne-Marit and she was not wrong! We have not ventured into any restaurants due to my next observation, that…
  • Food prices, while not as expensive as we had feared are dear, as is alcohol. Norwegians are bound by strict rules regarding booze. Fresh food items such as vegetables and meat cost the most but staples like bread are not so prohibitive.
  • Living roofs are everywhere-green swards peppered with wild flowers covering every building from barns to homes to bus shelters to public toilets to mail boxes-often entire communities sporting them-everywhere as are…
  • Trolls-probably too many, to be honest-

What else? There is a good deal of graffiti in the cities-but very little in the way of advertising hoardings-nothing along the roadsides or in fields. Most homes are constructed in wood [of course] and many are self-builds. There is a glorious profusion of wild flowers which includes lupins [at least-now in summer!] and the clover, in particular is enormous. Everyone speaks fluent English –and all are pleasant and welcoming! What’s not to love?

Grace’s Christmas Crackers

                Some of my most memorable Christmases are from a time when I was single and sharing them with a similarly placed friend. They did, of course feature alcoholic consumption [which you would have thought might have obliterated the memories], but we felt we could let our hair down and break the rules.

                Christmas is time most people look forward to, for its break from work and for its fun and festivities, although it also has a reputation for wreaking havoc on marriages and family relationships in general. Large family gatherings can be a time of great joy, but can be a source of conflict as well. Fuelled by an excess of alcohol, rich food, inactivity, gift disappointment and puerile TV programmes, I suppose long held resentments boil up and burst their lids like a neglected pan of sprouts.

                My parents harboured an anxiety over Christmas-that they would be spending it on their own without a gathering of their adult children and their families around them. There would be a delicate juggling act to perform in the approach to the festive season, when in-laws would vie for their offspring’s attendance at the Yuletide table; the major prize being Christmas lunch. As in many aspects of child rearing, I learned from these occasions and vowed I would never exert pressure on my own adult children. Nevertheless, the Christmas predicament became critical once my father was left on his own. Then he needed to be supported in the warm grip of his family-the nearest geographically being favourite-in other words-us!

                I tell my children they must go to whomever they would like. They are welcome to visit at any time during the holiday [provided we are at home!] and we will kill the proverbial fatted calf whenever they arrive. Hence, this year we will be cooking roast turkey on Christmas day for one lot, and roast beef on Boxing Day for another set. Another has disappeared and will return in the New Year.

                Having said all that, this Christmas is just a bit special for a very particular reason which I will explain later.

                Thursday’s post is suspended due to the impending festivities, so the next pile of drivel will be next Sunday-

                Wishing all followers an extremely Merry Christmas without family strife, over-boiled sprouts, hand knitted sweaters, major bust-ups, indigestion or hangovers! 

Lost in the Fog of Incomprehension

                I think I may be turning into my mother. It is an unnerving thought. Why do I suspect this? Well, in a somewhat painful acknowledgement I have to confess there are many aspects of today’s fashion, culture and lifestyle I simply do not understand at all, and this lack of comprehension elicits the same pitying expression and incredulous remarks from my offspring as I once presented to their grandmother.

                There are the same, mismatched conversations about film, TV or music; the same confusion over technological issues; the same enquiries of ‘you mean you’ve never heard of…?’

                I remember breezing in from school as a thirteen year old, slinging my satchel [yes, reader, a satchel-and not the current Fiorelli or Mulberry type] down and delightedly regaling my mother with a seedy tale about a girl who’d been yanked out of class for flaunting a necklace of love bites.  The sad truth for those of us in thrall was that we all wished it was us, since it was indisputable evidence of a steamy encounter with a member of the opposite sex…! There was no possible method of self inflicting these fetching, purplish-blue bruises even if one was gifted with a talent for contortionism. My mother’s reaction? She was bewildered.

                “What? Biting?…Why would anyone bite someone?”

                I told her. I explained that it wasn’t a bite, it was a suck, but she remained resolutely mystified-and somewhat disapproving that I’d related the incident. At least, in this respect I differ from her, that is I am reasonably shock-proof. How can I be anything else? I was a teenager in the sixties.

                The following is a random sample of some things that mystify me.

 

Puffa Jackets.

I don’t get these. For anyone who is not anorexic they render the body obese. To wear one is to resemble the bulbous ‘Michelin Man’. I don’t doubt they are warm-but then so are bedsocks, and balaclavas.

 

Teenage Vampires.

I’ve read ‘Dracula’. It was great. I enjoyed the Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. But the plethora of viewing of ‘Twilight’ ilk is all total bilge…[to me!].

 

Rapping

I should probably not include rapping in this list, since it has been around for so long-but it still does not pre-date my musical tastes. I have never understood its appeal, being neither poetry nor music.

 

Shots

As far as I can make out, this is simply a way to get strong alcohol down the gullet without tasting alcohol, hence the bizarre flavours. You only ever see people tipping them down their throats, as if imbibing nasty medicine-which it might just as well be.

 

Tattoos

I agree there is a modicum of fascination about someone who is covered in inky pictures, but I’ve yet to see how they enhance anyone’s appearance. It looks eccentric to the point of farcical to sweep up the red carpet towards the Oscar ceremony in a Balenciaga gown with a lurid tattoo on the bare shoulder or exposed leg-and a related body decoration-

 

Piercings

Yes I do have pierced ears, although only one, discreet hole in each. The worst are those studs in the indentation of the nostril that simply look like a nasty boil on the nose, or dangle from the nose like snot. Similarly, I can’t see anything attractive about those HUGE cotton reel things that young men wear in both ears, forming a large, gaping circle in each.

                I could go on, except that it may well turn into a rant, which would be unseemly. It’s not, you understand, that I disapprove of any of the above, more that I can’t see the point of them. But hey-each to their own. [oh and I know how irritating old people can be!]