Thursday, 27 September 2007

A starry, starry night.

There’s something about the light in the South of France which intrigues me. Things which look dull and ordinary back in the UK take on a different character, brighter and more alive. A view through an open gateway suddenly reminds you of a famous picture – you may not be sure which one, but you know you’ve seen it before somewhere. The sight of the waiter bringing lunch, weaving through crowded tables, tray held high, makes you do a double take and wonder why this scene feels so familiar. A badly maintained front door, instead of looking scruffy and in need of attention, suddenly makes you want to paint it. And I don’t mean with two coats of Dulux, either. Everywhere you look, something is begging to be immortalized on canvas, and it's very likely that someone already has.

So although we’re not very au fait (get that, I can speak French now) with art history, I suppose the phrase “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” could apply to husband and me. We both enjoy a bit of culture so along with the other essential holiday activities of relaxing, swimming, reading, eating and drinking we usually like to visit the odd art gallery or two, visit a historically significant site or just tour the area, sometimes stopping where the fancy takes us rather than making a proper plan. There's something wonderful about being able to call in at Renoir's house (he wasn't in, by the way), visit a world class modern art foundation or look out to sea from the same studio window that Picasso gazed through, all within a few minutes' drive, and still be back to catch the last of the afternoon sun by the pool.

So, after a tense start to the holiday (see previous post) I began to relax deeply, and was surprised to find myself awake at 3 a.m. one night, restless and fretful. Too much coffee after dinner, with a killer Cointreau on the rocks, was no doubt the problem. I lay in bed for a while, trying to get back to sleep, thinking about all the things we'd seen that day, mulling it all over. But it was no good, now I was wide awake with no sign of sleep coming my way. Getting out of a strange bed in an unfamiliar room in the dark, I tentatively felt my way to the bathroom to get a glass of water and, feeling a bit too hot, carefully opened the shutters to let in a bit of air. And what a surprise I got. Framed by the tiny bathroom window was the most wonderful night sky I have ever seen, the stars twinkling like a handful of blazing diamonds scattered over a cloak of inky blue velvet. I stood for a very long time just gazing upwards, totally in awe, thinking of one of my all-time favourite paintings by Van Gogh. It was absolutely stunning.

Like I say, everywhere you look, there's a masterpiece waiting to be painted.

I filled my glass and raised it to drink.

Here's to you Vincent.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Holiday Maker From Hell

We were booked on an early flight to Nice, so having washed, ironed, selected capsule wardrobe*, packed, unpacked, repacked, burst into tears, decided I couldn't be arsed to go, had a row with my husband whilst simultaneously clearing out the fridge - I lay awake all night worrying about, well, just about everything. I may have told you before that I have managed over the years to turn worrying into a transcendental art form akin to tantric sex - the build up takes hours and hours culminating in one almighty explosion, not of ecstacy but of angst. Don't know why, but going on holiday, dinner parties and Christmas have roughly the same effect on me. Total panic. I am obviously a raving nutter.

Anyway, having worked myself into a frenzy and my husband into a fury, ("Bloody Hell, I'm taking you to the South of France, not the frigging guillotine") I finally flopped, exhausted, into bed at around 9 p.m. so that we would be awake and ready for 5.30 a.m., when our airport taxi was booked. Whose bloody stupid idea was it to get such an early flight? Not mine, obviously. We used two alarms, just to make sure we'd be up, but needn't have bothered with either one of them as I proceeded to lie awake all night long, wide-eyed with terror re the awful prospect of going away. Poor me.

But, with the true stoicism of a man who has lived with a very strange and infuriating woman for over thirty years, my husband just quietly carried on regardless, getting me a cup of tea and a piece of toast at some ungodly hour, reminding me how lovely it was going to be, that everything would be alright, there was no need to worry etc., etc., in a similar way to someone reassuring a loved one about to undergo a major operation. Without an anaesthetic.

That man deserves a medal.

But why do I do it? The only reason I can think of (apart from the fact that I am a bit mad) is that I am a Taurean, a person who is worried about change and not very adventurous at all, who given the chance would probably choose "home" over any other destination. Boring, but true. Plus, I am shit-scared of flying. I'm not particularly concerned about the prospect of crashing (though I would prefer not to, obviously), it's the whole claustrophobic airport experience I hate, from the anxiety of having my suitcase weighed right through to the clanging shut of the aircraft doors. Shudder. I have to be going somewhere really good to make it worth the effort. But the problem is, you don't know how good it's going to be until you've been, do you? What we need is more hindsight, sooner.

Anyhow, we got there in one piece, it was hot, it was wonderful, it was La Belle France. Having left the wet and chilly UK so early, by 1 p.m. we were sitting in the sun, eating lunch in the town square of the medieval perched village of Tourrettes, (yes I know about the syndrome, but for fear of causing offence I am not going to make any wisecracks about it being the ideal holiday location for someone who calls herself Swearing Mother).

"Ah, this is just SO lovely" says I to my long-suffering husband as we clink glasses. Breakfast in the UK and lunch in the South of France. What a good idea that early flight had been. Hadn't I said so all along?

He looks at me for a long moment. I am sure he is fighting the urge to push me face first into my salad Nicoise, and who can blame him?

But he just smiles and says "I am saying absolutely nothing."

Good man.

* for anyone not familiar with the phrase "capsule wardrobe" it's a term used to describe the clever selection of the minimal amount of co-ordinating clothes required to provide the largest number of different outfits possible - in reality it means that by day three of your holiday, everything smells or is covered in bits of food or wine stains, and you're bored with wearing navy blue and white anyway. Especially if you've accidentally packed brown shoes.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Women and Cake

In a week's time I will be on holiday so today I continue on my diet, trying to lose a couple of pounds of excess blubber which are currently hugging my middle, spoiling the line of my new swimsuit (gave up on bikinis a long, long time ago), so this morning with true resolve I strode into the office carrying a bag with all the food I intended to eat today. It contained:

One banana.

One low fat yoghourt.

One can of low calorie, low salt, low taste soup.

One piece of crispbread with a thin film of low calorie spread.

Two satsumas.

A large bottle of water.

And that was it. That was definitely all I was going to eat today until dinner this evening.

And then I remembered it was someone's birthday today. In our office that means only one thing:


Now, I have been known to be able to resist shop bought factory produced cake. Mr. Kipling does not tickle my (French) fancy. Swiss roll can keep on rolling for all I care. I can take them or leave them, more or less.

But not these cakes. They were home-made. And there were tons of them.

Flap-jacks, chocolate layer cake, strawberry Pavlova, lemon drizzle, carrot cake and Bakewell tart, to mention just a few. The birthday girl must have been baking all weekend, bless her. Within minutes of unveiling the wonderful spread, every woman in the place was clustering round that table, plate in hand, like it was the first day at Harrod's china sale.

So now my food list for today includes:

One piece of flapjack, plus the crumbs from the flapjack plate (these don't count, I was just tidying up).

Two very, very thin slices of lemon drizzle cake, then another bloody great huge one.

Only the strawberries from the Pavlova because I am on my diet. The meringue and cream just happened to be stuck to some of them.

A wafer thin piece of chocolate cake. Honestly, it was just a shaving.

Half a piece of carrot cake, no topping. Then the other half plus the topping from the first piece. But they were only very small, so that's OK.

A tiny piece of Bakewell tart, leaving the pastry edge because pastry is very fattening.

As you can see, I am a woman of true resolve and determination. It would have been so easy to have fallen off the wagon in the face of such temptation, but tonight for dinner we are having a salad because I am, as I said, on my diet. And I intend to stick to it.

Can't wait to see how much I've lost.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Baby You Can Drive My Car. Maybe.

Holy shit, I've bought the little grey sportscar!! It was done with more than a small amount of help from my husband whose negotiating skills were sorely put to the test on Friday when we gave up and retreated, beaten by an intransigent salesman and my big gob. But what do you know, today OH sneaked off into his study whilst I was out of ear-shot (or more importantly, mouth-shot), phoned the car dealers and had another go. And guess what? The guy we tried to deal with before was out of the office, and could someone else help? So husband made an offer that could easily have been refused, but wasn't. Result! My hero! I am now the proud owner of one metallic charcoal grey MG covertible, including total valet and detailing, one year's free warranty and a full tank of petrol. I cannot believe it! After all my dithering, we've actually been and gone and done it. Fantastic. I am SO excited.

Husband's face was a picture when he delivered the news. "You will let me drive it, won't you?" he asked, after I'd released him from a bear hug and he'd had chance to breathe again.

"Of course I will" said I, once I'd put him down and stopped screaming with glee, "any time you like, darling."

That is, when you can find where I've hidden the keys, of course.

P.S. The old bat sitting in the car isn't really me - apparently one minute she was at home doing her ironing and the next she was sitting in my new car. Didn't even have time to re-do her lippy or brush her hair properly. Who the hell is she? Bizarre.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Deal Or No Deal?

The sports car saga seems to be rumbling on and on, showing no signs yet of running out of fuel. Yesterday OH and I went back to see car number two (graphite metallic, yum) and took it for a test drive in near perfect conditions – lovely sunny day, roof down, did a bit of town driving and then out on the open road. Perfect. To be honest, it was pure magic. Apart from the bits where my husband was driving way too fast (lead foot) and I was shrieking “don’t scare me” the whole thing was a dream. He drove for a bit, stopped, we swapped and then I drove. We stopped again, took the hood down and I got out to check how good it looked. Foxy. He drove, stopped, and looked at the engine (oh, yes, check the engine, that’s a good idea). It had one, so that’s OK. I drove, stopped, played with the stereo and adjusted my sunglasses while he looked underneath the car. He drove again, this time finding a road away from the speed cameras and really revved the engine. I checked the makeup mirror and handbag storage. The conclusion of this exhaustive testing being: I WANT IT! WANT IT! WANT IT! WANT IT! Please.

So now to business and back to the dealer to haggle over price. We’d previously decided between ourselves that we wouldn’t make a decision there and then, we’d go home, have a cup of coffee, talk about it sensibly and then make him an offer. Play it cool. But now? Sod that, give me the keys and get out of my way, I WANT THIS CAR. Any luke-warm, wishy-washy, namby-pamby “I’m not sure if I should spend the money/do I really need it/will I look silly in it” thoughts have now evaporated with the blip of an accelerator pedal. It has now become a lerve thang. I don’t care about the money now, the car had me at “vroom vroom.” We are meant to be together.

As we drive back into the dealership forecourt I try not to look too keen, but it’s not easy as my face is flushed, my hair standing on end and I’m grinning widely, ear to ear.

“Wipe that smile off your face” says OH*. “You’re looking too keen. You’d make a terrible poker player.”

“OK, I’ll think about ironing” says I, looking glum instantly. I am not going to show my hand too soon.

We come to a smooth stop and the dealer swaggers over. He takes one look at us and it’s immediately obvious that there’s absolutely no bluffing him, he is reading me like a hand of marked cards and already has my number.

“That car really suits you” he schmoozes (he might as well have added “l’il lady”) and starts talking about warranties and delivery as if it's all a foregone conclusion and it's now just a matter of paperwork. By prior agreement, I am supposed to leave the financial negotiations to my husband as I am well known for being reckless when in love and tend to agree to anything, so I give him a look which says “well, go on then, get on with it.” I make a pretence of looking round the car, under the car, in the boot, etc., etc., while covertly watching the two men square up to each other like Wild West gunfighters settling a score.

“Well” says OH as an opening gambit, “we like it but there are one or two things that need attention. Can we negotiate on price?” Ah, how polite he is. But masterful. This is going to be easy. He'll win the contest without a shot being fired.

“Not really, it’s in immaculate condition and the money is about right” says dealer guy, lighting a cheroot and spitting on the ground. Ok, so he’s refusing to be drawn and is going to prove more of a challenge after all. This slightly surprises me.

“No room for a bit of negotiation then?” husband asks through narrowed eyes, gazing into the sun. We have already done our homework and know that they are asking top dollar and then some. Especially as it’s been such a terrible summer, it’s now nearly autumn and who but a total nutcase would buy a convertible at this time of year, apart from me of course.

“I don’t think so. We’ve had a lot of interest so far and I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting the asking price, so no. Sorry.” The dealer is standing his ground and not wavering at all. My husband just nods and shakes his head a little bit. So is that it then? They just look at each other in silence. A cold wind starts to blow and a ball of tumble weed drifts across the forecourt. Somewhere inside, there’s a guy whistling the tune from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s not looking good.

They continue circling, getting ready for the next shot at each other, but say nothing. Like most women, I find silence is oppressive and needs filling. I cannot stand the tension any longer, despite our earlier agreement for me to let OH deal with it - I don’t like the way this is going along and am finding it impossible to hold my nerve . So, like a bar room floozy from the Last Chance Saloon who should really have stayed indoors and let the cowboys fight it out, I get in between the two of them to bring things to a head. Move over and let a woman in. Oh dear.

“Let’s cut to the chase shall we, we all know I like the car, so just how low are you willing to go?” They both look at me as if to say “Miss Daisy, git outta the way or you’ll durned well git hurt” but it’s too late, the damage has been done. I've upset the balance of power. It’s obvious I have annoyed the bloke and now he’s telling us that this is his price, take it or leave it. My husband won’t agree to that, so now we’re stuffed. Me and my big mouth.

So now neither of them are willing to back down and the only thing left is for OH and me to saddle up and head out of town, empty handed.

But I’m not ready to throw my hand in yet. I love that car.

(* Other Half or One's Husband, depending on how posh I feel at the time of writing).

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Too many miles on the clock?

Went to look at the bright red sports car yesterday. It was lovely, but I am having doubts about the appropriateness of the whole idea. Not chickening out completely you understand, just having second thoughts.

I was fine with all aspects until I actually went to the showroom to test drive it and noticed a few things going on with other potential buyers which I'm not sure I can live with, even to be the driver of this particular type of car.

For example:

1. My jeans do not reveal my bum crack. Or a thong. Or a tattoo of my boyfriend's name.

2. I don't have long blonde hair to riffle my hands through at traffic lights when I've got the roof down. Or a pierced navel.

3. White high heels would kill my feet.

4. I am at least twenty five years too damn old.

5. I look absolutely shit in a baseball cap.

That said, husband was still determined to get me to have a go in it.

Now, years ago I used to drive an Austin Healey Sprite, a sweet little sporty number, low on the ground, you had to lie down to drive it, so I know how to get in and out of a car like that with some level of decency. But back in those days, mini-skirted and in white PVC boots, I wasn't self conscious about giving any bystander a flash of leg. But now? Well, let's say I'd want to be a lot more careful and can I really be bothered? Am I now built only for comfort? Maybe.

I needed the advice of a man I can trust.

"Give me your absolutely honest advice. I promise I won't go into a sulk" says I to husband, who is really keen for me to buy a sports car again so he can drive it.

"Did I look stupid in it?" I ask.

"No" he replies, as usual a man of many words.

"You know, like those sad old bags who think they're still twenty-five or something?" I persist.

"No, you bloody-well didn't. You looked good. I think it suited you." Ahh, you can see why I love him can't you?

"But what about when I'm getting in and out, wearing a skirt? Would I flash too much flesh? And what about my varicose vein? Hardly goes with the bright red sports car image, does it?" Lots of negatives are popping into my mind now, I am depressing myself and need a bit of reassurance so I'm asking him every spurious question that comes into my head. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Doubts are definitely setting in.

"Only you would even think about that" he looks at me, totally mystified. He doesn't want to give up on the car, he can just see himself bladdering round the countryside with the roof down, listening to his Top Gear driving music CD, Ray-Bans on. So he persists and asks "and does it really matter, anyway?" Fair point I suppose. But I am increasingly talking myself out of it.

"Well I don't want to be silly about it but it's hardly an image I want to portray - y'know, bright red sports car, silly old woman driving it sort of thing?" The truth of the situation is beginning to dawn on me. Too damn old. And silly. And veiny. Bugger, bugger, bugger. My bottom lip is now so far out, you could rest a tray of drinks on it.

He has another go at reassuring me, bless him, but he's getting a bit fed up with it now. Understandably.

"Only you would come to test drive a sports car and then end up worrying about your sodding varicous vein." He thinks that this is reassuring, but to me it isn't. He himself has actually said the V. V. words and now we are DOOMED. Oh dear, this is all going to hell in a handcart, let alone a sexy little two seater convertible.

He gives it one last try, desperately trying to find his way out of the hormonal minefield he is inadvertently walking through. Carefully does it, one step at a time, mind where you put your foot......

"And anyway, who cares if you've got a varicose vein. I love your legs. And blue goes with everything, after all."


Will let you know what's happening re the car when the smoke clears.