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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Coupling up…or Disentangling…

There must be a reason why the popular press loves to dollop liberal helpings of news about celebrity couples all over their pages. Does it make enjoyable reading because relationships are what interest the public more than anything? Who is with who? Who has had a baby? Who has been seen on holiday cavorting in the waves with who? And even more riveting: Who has split up with who? Who is having an affair/threesome/visits to prostitutes/paedophile allegations? Recently we’ve seen the split of Hollywood royalty ‘Brangelina’ as well as having to suffer the odious Donald Trump crowing about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions [of years ago-and for which he paid a hefty price].

You have to feel for the poor celebs. Their relationships have to weather the storms of fame, being in the public eye, having to undergo endless photo shoots for ‘Hello’ magazine, having loads of money and getting photo-zapped by stealthy paparazzi whilst exposing their flesh on expensive yachts. One or two famous couples have also amassed more children than the old woman who lived in a shoe by jetting around the world and hoovering up spare tots like flies on a window sill.

But what of we mere mortals? Observing couple behaviour is an interesting slant on people watching and a sport I’ve been enjoying during the time we’ve been away. Unless it’s an arranged marriage a relationship will usually have begun with some mutual attraction or downright lust from one or both partners. The lust gets tempered over time for a variety of reasons. Babies are renowned passion killers as are domestic chores and financial duress. For some couples, however this round of domestic obligation can be the cement that sticks them and an adhesive that fails once the chicks have fledged and the pair realise that the sprogs was all they had in common. I know a number of these.

Many couples, however seem to stick together even though nothing remains or they’ve forgotten why they became one to begin with, sharing their accommodation and little else. In our local hostelry the same individuals [almost exclusively male] can be seen any or every night of the week, leaving spouses to their own devices. Most people don’t want to be joined at the hip, and a few different interests in retirement is a good idea, but some seem not to have contact at any point, like the couple in a motorhome in Agde, France, one of whom spent each day cycling and the other inside watching TV. I’ll leave you, reader to imagine which half of the couple indulged in which activity.

Separating is scary and expensive for we commoners, more so in older age, but myself I couldn’t contemplate living the meagre remainder of my life with a cold vacuum of relationship in which the property we occupied was the only thing in common.

The Housebot is Coming!

                It would only be fair to say that these days, here at Schloss Lessageing, the family home and domestic hub that houses us, domestic chores and hum drum routines are shared on an equal basis. This is not to say that there aren’t tasks which one or other of us has adopted as routine, or that one task falls under an individual’s remit more than another. Husband, for instance is more inclined to put dustbins out for collection each Sunday night, although I do undertake this job on occasion. It is interesting to note, however that when neither of us is present the bins experience a less regular evacuation. On one occasion I discovered, while tidying the garden, the corpse of a cat, which I’m sorry to say I dealt with by manoeuvring it into a plastic bag, wrapping it in a number of layers of newspaper plus more plastic bags and depositing into the refuse bin. [I’m aware that this appears callous, but time and opportunity did not allow for a more dignified disposal]. On our return I gathered that this bin did not get emptied for several weeks, resulting in a powerful stench as the said corpse deteriorated. Luckily our neighbours are still speaking to us.

                Meal preparation, vacuuming, laundry, polishing of furniture-these are all chores which are designated either/or. This way we all get some time off for good behaviour, although myself, I do not hold the same contempt/disregard/reluctance for domestic tasks that I had as a proper working person, in fact I may even, on occasion derive something approaching satisfaction in their execution. This is because it is possible to accompany chores with pleasurable activities such as radio listening or story composition. In other words, they are mindless and allow the brain to think about anything one likes.

                But I am not so far removed from the world of proper work to have forgotten how utterly exhausted I used to be on my return each day and also at weekends [when it would take until Sunday night to recover from the rigours of the previous week]. So the news that Dyson, the vacuum cleaner manufacturers are pouring mountains of cash into research into a variety of domestic robots seems, on the face of it to be encouraging-that is, until you look forward to the time when these domestibots begin to be commonplace.

                You will be able to sit watching the TV while the hooverbot revolves around the room. Your only movement will be a slight lifting of the feet as it nears the sofa. You will be able to read a magazine as the tablebot clears the plates; only needing to raise your paper as it takes your plate. You may lie, comatose on your sun-bed as the mowerbot beavers up and down the lawn manufacturing its perfect stripes, and you can continue with your next level of ‘Candy Crush’ as the refusebot empties the bins, the laundrybot sorts the garments and the chamberbot makes the beds.

                And if you are very, very lucky the hoistbot will come along and lift your [by now] obese form from its dent on the couch and transport you along to the hospital for your heart transplant. What’s not to like?