We are having a week’s holiday in the north of Corsica. It’s beautiful. This morning we decided to go for a hike that promised to be stunning and it was, until we reached a really high point on the cliff top where the path narrowed and the drop was not protected by any vegetation. I turned into a blob of useless jelly: stuck fast to the side, unable to go forward or back . I tried- I so wanted to go on . I was angry with myself for being so pathetic but my heart was pounding and I felt sick. I could not look down. Sweat and tears down my face shielded by my sunglasses. Vertigo is a wicked affliction that grows and grows with the passing of time . I am no longer a mountain goat. Happier in the sea than on high ground. Oh well but really disappointed with myself ! A swim in the sea, the walk back and then we saw this that made me smile! Fireman on his lunch break – priceless!
It’s one year to the day that Frog and I decided to give up smoking. We had both gone for a health check in late July. I was fine apart from slightly raised blood pressure – not really surprising given everything that was going on but poor Frog was told that his lungs were in a very, very bad way. Some people are just doomed if they smoke..
So September 1st 2015 it started . At 11.00am Frog said – well we could have one. I said no – shut up Frog. The day passed in a haze of not knowing what to do with my right hand , it kept twitching. Was so sad that I wasn’t even hungry and didn’t even want a glass of wine. At 11.00pm Frog said “we could have one now”. I said “NO FROG!!!” and so we went from week to week . Hard! I got fatter even though I didn’t eat any more but have lost it now. Frog got fatter and continues to . Régime for him after holidays.
So liberating though after the first month, fresh mouth, fresh air . Can tell a smoker that passes me in the street. Have given up in the past but always thought I would start again in old age but this time it’s forever. I just hate the smell. I love having a minty mouth. I love not paying more than our rent in cigarettes and feeling anxious about not having enough for the weekend. I will never say no to anyone who wants to smoke chez moi cos I understand but …So goodbye to Vogue menthols, I loved you for a while but I love me more. And Frog, I am still watching you and it’s still NO!
I was very excited and flattered to be asked to write a blog about my hair. You know who you are LB and thank you. So this is the story.
I never really played around with the colour of my hair when I was younger, maybe because I quite liked what I had: thick dark brown hair with natural hints of bronze. Yes I toyed with perms in the 70’s and 80’s- almost always a disaster ranging from the poodle look to Louis XIV. I guess I started having low-lights in my mid to late 30’s when the grey was begining to show and it looked good but maybe a bit like everyone else especially in my part of London. And boy was it time consuming and expensive! Every six weeks – 4 hours of a numb bum and by then roots showing after 2 weeks and me having to do a paint job at home!
One day I just questioned and I can’t remember when exactly, maybe about 10 years ago, what lies beneath? I do recall announcing to my girl friends that I was going to go grey. A few raised eyebrows- has she finally lost the plot? I persevered. I was curious and I thought it might be more fun to do when my face was still youngish and I could always go back if I didn’t like it. Would I do it now with an older face- possibly not? Glad I did though.
I announced to James of Pelo in Barnes- my hairdresser then and now ( I still see him every three months when I am in London!). He didn’t bat an eyelid and said yes “we can do this.” He is brilliant and funny by the way and always manages to squeeze me in. So I guess it took about a year. I never had it cut short but my hair does grow really quickly. We avoided that dreadful “growing out” look by adjusting the low-lights until we stopped and it was actually quite painless. Although dear son, announced one day that I had granny hair! Cheers Tom.
And the final result, I love it. I keep it long cos that is me. The few times that I have cut it short, I have normally ended up by booing my eyes out. Am sure it’s to due to the traumas of childhood with my mother taking me to a barber’s and having it razored short. Painful and humiliating. This went on until I was about 12. I looked more like my brother than he did. ” My darling”she used to say “it maka your ‘air grow tikka” ( she is Italian). I have no idea if she was right or not but thick it was. When I was in my 20’s it took all morning to dry naturally, now it takes about 40 minutes. It’s not as thick but there is still a lot of hair so I am grateful. Also the colour is now naturally streaked, black underneath and different nuances from right to left, silver to white. No hint of yellow since I quit smoking.
I am extremely lazy. I wash it at least 3 times a week especially after exercise when it ends up soaking and clinging to my head like an old woolly hat. I use no more than twice a week, a special violet shampoo for “silver” hair ( love that, it makes me feel like a fairy!), otherwise shampoo of the moment- Frank Prevost now, condition and then (this is the secret) a dose of diluted cider vinegar to bring back the shine and rinse. Towel dry and leave. I sometimes try to blow dry it but am useless. I get hot and bored. So I prefer to turn my head upside down and give it a final blast with the dryer. Depending on the madness of the final result, I either leave it loose or clip it up. I love my hair clips and there are days when I just need to do a Patsy from Ab Fab. It makes me feel taller! Result- baby soft and shiny.
Final thoughts…it was the right choice for me . I have been stopped many times in restaurants and even in the street to say that my hair is fabulous and is it natural? I get a bit pink but am totally chuffed….
Yet again ahead of my time, it seems to be the height of fashion. Even the young in Paris and London are paying to go grey either fully or partially. I did it first girls…and I guess I am lucky, it’s maybe not for everyone.
More musings and probably now mutterings from Marseille…
I realised a while back that I am not always right (infact I am often wrong) but what a relief. How boring would it be to always get it right, living in a world of total nicompoops.? So I try not to beat myself up when I make mistakes or huge, huge boo-boo’s.
Yet last Sunday, I smashed it. Nothing world changing just a win in the environment of my teeny, tiny, mrs pepperpot household. So let me explain briefly. The door to the kitchen larder (have yearned all my life for one of those) was a bit broken, in that the door could not be shut. To make it brief: a metal rod thing that was fixed into the floor tiles but yet grooved into the inward opening door frame had come adrift. Anyone still with me?
So this all happened about a month ago. Frog is in charge of bricolage -diy. What a relief after years and years of doing it all myself. Even managed to put in a dimmer switch once without killing anyone…Anyway, Frog had been mulling it over all this time which means he didn’t have a clue. Not easy as there was no obvious solution but enough was enough. So Sunday morning he got down to business. I could see that after ten minutes he was getting crosser and crosser as it was tricky but in my world , all problems have solutions without totally losing the plot. If that fails a good cry will do. Anyhoo, he tried to get into the larder to fix it from within but I obviously feed him too well and it was so not going to work. How I wish I had taken a photo of him then..
“Ma chérie” he said and to paraphrase- maybe we should just accept defeat and take the door off and put another curtain up. The French love curtains instead of cupboard doors- I don’t have wardrobe doors anymore just sets of curtains. Charming for a while but they get dusty and you can’t totally shut off how your tee shirts are not perfectly arranged or colour co-ordinated. ( A touch of ocd maybe? ).
So this was the impetus I needed: ” Let me try, I am smaller than you- I know I can do it “, French shrug was the reply and “et après?”. Well, I did manage to reverse my way in: thank you to my Italian genes for making me short, thank you for my gym membership to allow me to burn off some of the wine calories that I drink and a final thanks to my wonderful yoga teachers that I had in London who helped me achieve “the crow” and other weird bendy positions. Great Oscar speech methinks!
Pre-ending got the rod back in it’s socket – no idea how! Frog then told me that washers were needed underneath to raise the door or it would scrape. So I dismantled it again – still no idea how and then refixed it, again, no idea how but clearly the angel of bricolage was on my shoulder . But heck she must be truly skinny cos really no room in there- must ask her for her régime!
PS: Frog was very tempted to shut me in and it would be impossible to get out but I had described in detail what I would be cooking for lunch and so yet again greed got the better of him (phew)
PS: After my victory , I was inspired to totally reorganise the larder and to do a total spring clean – even polished the silver (yep more ocd and more tomorrow).
PPS: I have got so used to the door being broken that I keep forgetting to shut it. For goodness sake!
PPPS: If nothing is heard from me for a while, please check the larder. I have enough rations for a week or so….
Twenty eight years ago today we had a new arrival in the family: our first baby – a week early -a beautiful little girl. As I looked into her bright blue, all- knowing, all-seeing eyes ( they are still just as blue even now), I fell madly and deeply in love. The rest of the world ceased to exist. So it was with a lump in my throat that I woke up this morning with the realisation that yet again, I would not be able to hand over her birthday gifts in person. Mothers get a bit sentimental about things like this. Not to worry, she is coming out to visit next month and we will kick off our shoes and have lots of fun. The 20/8/1988 was a very good day indeed, so happy birthday Loulou….xxx
Around the 1880’s (feel free to admire the link), the building I live in used to be dormitory for the nuns of a local convent. I’m not quite sure which one but until relatively recently much of the city belonged to the Catholic Church. This discovery rather intrigued me and it made me think about the motley crew that are currently within these walls. They couldn’t be more different!
Next door to us, is a very pleasant lady of Sardinian descent who was widowed young. I don’t know her story but there are always wonderful smells of cooking wafting out of her flat. Opposite we have some young Rumanian people packed in like sardines, even a baby or two. We never hear a peep out of any of them and are only aware of their presence by the dirty trail left by builders’ boots that set me a-tutting . I don’t know their story either but the smells that permeate our hallway are an aquired taste. Next door to them, is a family of maybe three or four people from I don’t where. Very polite and very quiet. Let’s just skip any description of their cooking odours, suffice to say it might well be broth made from old goat or donkey bones. Entirely possible, as I see no evidence of either creature in Marseille.
Frog’s brother lives upstairs with his partner and teenage son. We see quite a lot of them. Opposite there is a lady of around my age (but she seems so much older) Madame Bonbon to me. I call her that as the first time I saw her, she accidentally dropped a sweet from up above and it fell onto my head giving me quite a start. I have never been into her flat but she does have a large poster of Betty Boop just inside her door and a peacock feather. Her shutters are never open and I suspect that housework is not her forte. How could she have time when she is clearly busy tying little bows into her hair and applying sequins to her chest? I lie not. I will find a way to take a photo one day. At Christmas, she likes to stick a (tacky) Christmas card, addressed to all the neighbours on the wall in the main entrance. And there it stays along with her previous ones and postcards from holidays. No one dares remove them for fear of causing offense. Although, I do believe that the sticky-tape from some of the older ones has peeled away with the damp and whoops-a-daisy, they have found their way into the bin! This year she excelled herself by decorating all the mail boxes and the stairwell with cutsie Christmas stickers. They have not remained. Perhaps peeled off and stored away for next time. Rumour has it that she was married to a violent man who died suddenly a while back.
Finally there is Madame P, the doyenne of the building. Very frail and pale she is rarely seen. She too is a widow. Are you beginning to sense a theme? I cannot comment on the cooking smells from upstairs.
Goodness knows what they make of us Frog and the strange half English/Italian woman who arrived one day and stayed!
The only new arrival today was the oven two weeks past its due date!
Well I do and I have for as long as I can remember. In particular, at around the age of three, I recall mixing and mixing a sickly sweet cake mixture. With my fat little arms, stiff from stirring the gloop with a wooden spoon and a little trace of cake moustache around my mouth I was more than pleased with my efforts. What heaven! And lo and behold an hour or so later, I was invited back in to the kitchen to see the finished creation – a perfectly rectangular, iced chocolate cake.
The penny did not drop immediately, that there had been no chocolate involved in my sticky mixture but after all I was only little and everything was possible. I have no idea when ,but my mother did finally confess that she had binned the cement cake mixture and bought the chocolate cake from the milkman. It was a time when milkmen still delivered and offered little extras too (nothing to be read into this please- orange juice, potatoes and the odd chocolate cake!!). Nevertheless, to tiny me it was magic.
My journey with cooking continued although I am not sure quite why. Perhaps I should explain that my father was English and my mother still is (93) very Italian. I believe that my father was very excited at the prospect of having an Italian wife who would be able to prepare him wonderful meals but alas he married a woman from Italian aristocracy who didn’t even know how to boil an egg. Apparently she ‘fessed up on their wedding night but nonetheless, I was born nine months later…
So food in our household was interesting but often erratic. My mother did learn to cook although her heart was never really in it, yet it introduced European cuisine to us in the 60’s – a little ahead of it’s time. Lasagne, vitello tonnato, risotto, scallopine alla milanese….what wonders alongside fish fingers and sausages. When my father cooked it was traditional British fare – roasts – wonderful beef on the bone* – lovely and rare, leg of lamb ( I always used to be given that wonderful sweet bits at the end- “smakerels”). But who made the best Yorkshire pudding to go with the beef – my mother! Perhaps they were a perfect match…. to be continued cos I am tired and might just waffle…bear with if you want too
* yorkshire pudding will have to feature at some point!
(Warning this is not depressing although it might be interpreted as such!)
Don’t get me wrong. I am perfectly happy. Actually I am a bit of a cross patch today but that has absolutely nothing to do with this blog. I was talking to “dear friend” on the phone the other night. How I miss telephone contact with friends. The only phone calls I ever get here on the landline are from my mother- guaranteed to twist my gut or make me stuff my knuckles into my mouth, to stop me from shouting at her loony thoughts, or from people trying to sell me life insurance – as if!! Anyway, “dear friend” reminded me that I had proclaimed a while back that I do not wish to live beyond the age of 60. That still stands and gives me another 3 potentially good years.
Don’t get me wrong, if I happen to wake up on May 26 2019, I am not going to take any action. If mother nature is mean enough not to listen to my simple wish of taking my last breath peacefully whilst I sleep (in my best primark pj’s!) and passing it on in a kiss to someone who really wants it, well what can I do? Nothing but this is why.
I don’t really want to get any older, not too keen on this ageing process. I find it demeaning. Basically it sucks. I am doing my very best to stay fit and healthy: quit smoking (finally and for the very last time – 11 months ago), joined a gym in February and have refound my rhythm 2/3 times a week and boy do I give it my best. Don’t quite cut the figure I did in my 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s but I do give it my all. And sometimes, just sometimes I come out feeling as if I could conquer the world. Normally though, I am just hot, sweaty and pink cheeked -ok red as a tomato! . I eat well, healthily and that comes naturally. So why?
I just figure that another 3 years will be enough. I still have dreams of having a little house here in France with flowers spilling out of pots and herbs growing in my kitchen garden. Frog dreams of having his ‘man shed’ to set up his tools and potter about on various little projects. Who knows, that might happen in which case I might beg for an extension. At the moment, none of this looks likely, however. Even if this did happen, I am not really sure that I like the way this world is going. So much violence, so much anger, so much loneliness- young and old alike.
On a purely selfish basis: I don’t want to age any more physically or mentally. I hate that I can’t read without my glasses and even sometimes with them. I hate that I have to stand back a bit from people so that they do not have fuzzy faces. I don’t want to lose my teeth, my hair or find my boobs at knee level. I have had fun. I have had two wonderful children and am really proud but I miss them enormously every day. I have had two important loves in my life and some really good friends, others who have just been transient. I have travelled – first class, business and low cost. I have stayed in some amazing hotels and some dives too. I have seen wonderful, wonderful things. I have seen terrible, terrible things too. I have laughed and hooted to the point of wetting myself. Forbid that this should happen in the future without laughing! In short, I have been blessed….
Three huge fires today around the Marseille area and I mean huge. Whipped up, snarling and blazing full force with the angry mistral coaxing the flames and distruction. Even in the city, the skies hang low part red and part grey and the air is acrid. A dirty barbeque without meat.
This almost describes the city itself: a total mixture of what is half beautiful, achingly beautiful but right now it is in self destruct mode. My very first impressions of Marseille around 5 years ago was that it was (and is in parts), a wonderful city but with such shocking negatives that I would have never considered living here. The ugly graffiti is almost everywhere and I am not talking about artistic graffitti which does exist and is beautiful. The two are not linked. The fact that most shops feel the need to have heavy metal shutters when closed to avoid vandalism, was an eye opener and something that I was not really used to ,coming more recently from a leafy London suburb.
Yet, I am not totally naive, I recall the Tottenham riots, the Brixton riots- a London constantly under threat. I have lived in slighly dodgier parts of London before they too became more gentrified: Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith and between Wandsorth Common and Tooting Bec. Ok, I was closer to the Common but I used to run down to Tooting. I grew up having to use the Tube with the threat of IRA bombs. Difficult times everywhere, then, now and forever I guess…
And so back to Marseille… the underbelly of this city is rotten, it’s dirty, it’s corrupt. There is no respect. People throw their rubbish in the streets, let their dogs poo without collecting, dump sofas, mattresses, wherever! There is no sense of service in many bars, restaurants or shops. One time, at the check out in a local supermarket, a product I had was lacking it’s barcode – the reaction from the person at the till was – do you really need this anyway? Really, really?? Would this happen in Waitrose- hmm, I don’t think so!
Solution time. It needs the equivalent of Rudy Guiliani to clean up this town as he did in NYC. It needs angels. It needs a new mayor who is not surrounded by people chosen by nepotism rather than merit (hopefully they are all about to retire). It’s too much of a melting pot, too many poor immigrants and angry drugged, armed people. A melting pot can bring wonderful things but this is just water thin soup with no flavour. It makes me sad. It could be grand. It could be magnificent. On Sunday, there was a shooting and two dead , 5 minutes from our flat..
So we finally got a date in the diary for a couple of friends of ours to come for supper last weekend. I had planned to do a delicious Moroccan tagine – chicken, olives and preserved lemons which is second to none apparantly. I don’t like to boast but Frog lived In Marrakesh for 5 years, so he should know.
We met Frog’s brother by chance on Thursday at a local bar where we arrived for just one drink, get some fresh air and to catch up on the week- just the two of us. Frog’s brother ( I have nothing against him) but he has the tact and sensitivity of a bull in a china shop or as they say in France “comme un elephant dans un magasin de porcelaine”. I think that this image is actually much more forgiving.
Suddenly our cosy evening for four, turned into a barbeque soirée, in the garden of one of their sisters, for nine people. I made mutterings about it how it might just be a tad rude to alter things especially since we had cancelled our friends last time when another sister was in town. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way this family has welcomed me with open arms and I love spending time with them. There is always lots of laughter, great food, rivers of wine and a sense of belonging. I just didn’t want our evening to be hijacked. Our contribution was to be all the meat and some salads. No comment. Frog said how lovely it would be to all eat outside. Don’t forget that we have neither a garden nor a balcony attached to our teeny weeny pepperpot sized flat. So I stopped making a fuss and just decided to go with the flow, not without, however, stamping my foot first by saying that I would not be preparing any food.
Needless to say, I spent Saturday afternoon preparing baby aubergine beignets (delicious) and Portuguese style carrots ( good but not the same as I used to eat in the Algarve.) I gave in as we were stuck waiting for our new oven to arrive and thought that I might as well do something useful. Oven never did arrive and do you know what ? I was not even surprised, I felt it in my bones from the moment I woke up (inspite of an alloted time slot). Thank you DARTY- it’s the last time you mess with me. Oven hasn’t even arrived at the warehouse yet! For goodness sake – service, service? Happy to take money but not deliver…
However, the evening was great fun in the end. It was lovely and warm and for once I wasn’t attacked by mosquitos- are they getting used to my blood? Lesson learned: just stop trying to control everthing and get on with life….Still not sure why we had to provide all the meat though!
August is here again and after the excitement of the annual jazz festival at Palais Longchamp the city has become eerily quiet.
The Seal concert that we went to last Friday at Palais Longchamp was just brilliant. It was a balmy night and the setting was stunning. Seal did not disappoint either: a mixture of old and new delivered with energy and real passion. I have been listening to his music all week ever since; in the gym as I have pounded away and at also at home – full blast! Frog, I sense, is becoming slightly bored and has resorted to wearing his headphones most of the time. Maybe it’s just to drown out my off key warbling. I never really know the words to songs anyway, which I admit, must be totally annoying. Just as well he has a good quality headset that drowns out both my “singing” and my talking. I know, however, I know that he is listening to Shakira and Selena Gomez. Perhaps I shall dedicate next week to singing along to Justin Beiber and then he will be sorry…
Anyhow,” I seem to have digressed”, a nod to the late Ronnie Corbett as I push my glasses back up my nose. Marseille is particularly quiet in August, like so many cities in Europe, everything shuts for the holidays. So those that stay tend to be office workers, tramps and pigeons. I don’t think I fall into any of these categories but then I never did (forgive what I’m about to write next as it’s truly dreadful) like to be pigeon-holed . Yuk- get a grip!
So on Thursday morning, I set off for one of the local flower markets to find a replacement for the extraordinally beautiful orange lillies that had lasted me a whole week – 5 stems for 5 euros – a snip! No market. On holiday!
Next stop -my favourite butchers that has a walk around counter with wonderfully presented cuts of meat. Unlike most of it’s competitors, not a feathered chicken,or rabbit head in sight. That makes me heave and I could almost consider the idea of becoming vegetarian. The whole place is spotlessly clean and the jovial staff are usually discussing recipes. Alas, they too were shut. Ditto the fishmongers. Are we meant to fast this month? Luckily the supermarkets stay open and some until quite late but it’s not the same. They are even open now on Sunday mornings for those that aren’t organised enough to plan the weekend’s food on Saturday i.e. me!
Will I ever get used to shop hours here anyway? Like much of Europe, they tend to open late ( after 10.00am), shut for a longish or really long lunch and stay open until about 7ish or whenever they fancy. This includes La Poste. I should be greatful that proper post offices still exist here, unlike the UK but the timing just doesn’t suit me . I am not on holiday and I need to get things done.*
As the month rolls on in this blistering heat, only interrupted by the rather angry Mistral wind (it plays havoc with my already unruly hair) , I know that I shall get used to the emptiness around and by September when people return to town, back to work and back to school, I shall feel a slight resentment for this noisy invasion. Well there is no pleasing some…..!
*For those of you that read my previous blog – The Rant part 2 ” and are anyway interested, I did finally got my toothbrush charger but mysteriously I found a slip in my post box to say that the postie had tried to deliver my package on Tuesday. Yet this slip did not appear until Saturday. Très bizarre! So another trip to La Poste to collect it, that is when they reopened after lunch.