Titli’s Weekly Blog – September 2011
3rd September 2011
When Man and I left France last October we left our “other” car behind. The idea was that it would be handy for me whenever I had a business trip to Geneva. I could check on the house (which was unsold at that time) and I’d have the freedom to visit friends and restaurants. It was left in my employer’s car park just a short walk from the airport.
Since then the house has been sold and I quit DuPont. My last day as a DuPont employee was 31st August, so I felt I couldn’t leave it in Geneva any longer. Attempts to sell the car generated very little interest. People around Geneva aren’t really interested in a nine-year-old Toyota Avensis with 150,000 km on the clock.
Last Sunday Man and I drove down to Bristol airport so that I could catch an afternoon flight to Geneva. On the way down I witnessed something which made my blood boil. As we made our way down a dual carriageway I couldn’t help but notice the car in front kept varying its speed and wandering across the lane. Normally my Titli-senses tingle and tell me that the driver is using their mobile phone. My response is to get past such idiots as soon as it is safe to do so. I was driving at the time so I moved into the overtaking lane and accelerated. As I looked to my left my jaw dropped. Driving the car was a woman, about 60 years old, with her head bowed down and reading a book which was propped on her steering wheel. In Titli’s Book of Retribution the punishment for such behaviour should be a permanent ban from driving. Not only do they risk their own lives but they risk the lives of people around them.
To further illustrate the point there was a fatal car accident the other week just a few miles from my home. The facts as we understand them is that four young lads were travelling back home in a pickup truck from an evening’s carting. As they turned a bend in the road the driver lost control of the pickup, presumably because he was going too fast. The vehicle rolled straight into the path of an oncoming car instantly killing its 24-year-old female driver. The driver of the pickup died at the scene. One passenger in the pickup was taken to hospital in a critical condition while the other two just walked away.
It doesn’t matter how good or careful a driver you are, there are people out there who are prepared to risk your life by driving in a selfish manner. I wish I had a very large gun for such people.
That was quite a rant, but it is something I do have strong feelings about. Can you tell?
Anyway, I arrived in Geneva and picked up my car. The poor thing hadn’t had a clean for almost a year so I thought I’d treat it! It had the super-deluxe car wash followed by a good vacuuming inside. I was having a great time until I watched helpless as the cover for my iPod disappeared up the vacuum nozzle. Those car vacuums are quite powerful…
I checked the tyre pressures and the oil, then topped up the windscreen washer fluid. Then I spotted a couple of things that shouldn’t have been there. Some flying ants appeared to have built a very small nest underneath the bonnet lid. It looked empty so I flicked it off. But then, wedged in the engine compartment underneath the air intake was a chunk of bread about the size of a bun! It was very dry so I used the ignition key to break it up and dislodge it. Perhaps my car got hungry while I was away!
My friend Jen had offered me a meal and a bed for the night. I was treated to a delicious aubergine parmesan bake with puréed broccoli followed by a lemon tart. Jen, Steph and I nattered the night away before heading off to bed.
The next morning I dropped Jen off in Geneva and called into the DuPont office to have a coffee with Stefanie and Marisa (See blog 25th July 2011). Unfortunately Yannick had a hospital appointment, so the three of us sat in the sunshine enjoying coffee and chatting about life and stuff. It would have been easy to have sat there all morning but they had jobs to do and I had a long drive ahead of me. We hugged and said goodbye.
I set the trip meter in the car to zero and set off. My destination was a town called Chartres just north of Orleans. The route took me past a halal supermarket that I often used to shop at and I couldn’t resist a final shopping trip. I got a few packets of warka (brick pastry) and 3 kg of spicy halal Merguez sausages! It was only after I had loaded my goodies into the car that my excitement gave way to reality. How was I going to keep the sausages cool for the next three days???? My first plan was to just wrap the packet of sausages in my jacket. Hopefully this would keep them cool for long enough for me to think of an alternative and better solution. Unphased, I set off again into the bright sunshine.
I find that driving on French autoroutes is a delight away from the big cities. The roads are very smooth and the traffic is usually light. OK, so you pay the tolls but I personally feel it is worth it. I had my radio tuned to 107.7 FM. This is the frequency used by stations that give frequent updates on the traffic situation on the autoroutes. They play some music and have features on various aspects of driving and the French autoroute system. The main interest is the traffic bulletins. Over the course of the next 2 days there were not only bulletins on tailbacks and accidents which had just happened, but also; tyre remnants across the carriageway; a car on fire in the emergency lane; assorted animals wandering across the autoroute – stray dogs, wild pigs and deer; children throwing stones from a bridge across the autoroute (yes, it happens in France too).
Thankfully (and rather strangely) most of these incidents were on parts of the autoroute I had already been on. Was I somehow leaving a trail of chaos behind me?
I arrived on the outskirts of Chartres after 8 hours and 800 km. By now I had a plan for the sausages. I found a nearby supermarket and bought one of their freezer bags and a couple of large blocks of ice. As long as I could find supplies of ice en route I would be sorted!
My hotel for the night was fairly basic. The TV in the room had about 26 channels on it, all of them in French. While I understand French quite well I’ve never found French TV to be particularly entertaining. On a plus note there was no BBC World. I hate BBC World… My food options in the surrounding area were very limited; next door was a Buffalo Grill. For those that don’t know this is a French mass-market restaurant chain serving American-style steaks with some concessions to French tastes, such as a Roquefort sauce option. It’s very quaintsy with saloon-style doors and pictures of Native Americans all over the place. The only real option for yours-truly was the grilled hake. Not the most inspiring meal I’ve ever eaten, but adequate for my hungry tummy.
The next morning I paid the bill and set off in search of breakfast. No way was I going to pay 12 Euros at the hotel for a coffee and a croissant. Just 20 minutes down the autoroute I pulled into some services and had a splendid breakfast for just 5 Euros. I’m not a cheapskate – I just don’t believe in paying overinflated hotel prices for something I know I can get cheaper if I go elsewhere. In my experience hotel breakfasts are rarely good value for money.
I arrived at the coastal town of St Malo in the middle of the afternoon. I filled the car up with petrol and discovered to my delight that my lovely car had been very economical. At a steady 70 mph she had achieved 58 miles per UK gallon. That’s my girl! Not bad for a 2-litre diesel.
The hotel room in St Malo was more expensive and even more basic than the one in Chartres. Think of a room which is only slightly larger than a double bed. Then imagine an en suite bathroom attached to it just big enough to accommodate a toilet and a shower. You get the picture. And once again I could choose from 26 different TV pictures, all in French.
I took the opportunity to empty the cold water from the bag containing the sausages and topped up with new blocks of ice from a nearby supermarket. I spotted a fish restaurant called “La Vague” (“The Wave”) just opposite the hotel and decided that this would be my destination for the evening. I was not disappointed! I started with delicious oysters followed by a grilled bass with mashed potatoes and ratatouille. As it was now the end of Ramadan I decided to celebrate Eid with a chocolate mi-cuit – a small chocolate sponge with chocolate sauce inside. I must show you how to make these one day!
I didn’t sleep well that night. At some un-Godly hour there was an argument in the street below my window. My interpretation is as follows: The hotel owner came back to the hotel late with a woman who was drunk. I heard them arrive and I recognised his voice. About 15 minutes later there was a bang as the woman ran out of the hotel. She was crying in the street and was joined a little while later by the hotel owner. Discussions continued for what seemed an eternity and then finally everything went quiet. Some time later I got back to sleep again.
I left the hotel at 6:30 in the morning. Breakfast should have been served from 6 am but the place was in darkness. I wrote the owner a note and headed for the ferry port to catch the ferry home.
With all my previous travel experience I’m used to being a transit passenger at airports, but this was the first time I would be a transit passenger for a ferry journey. The ferry stopped on the island of Jersey and everyone disembarked. I checked the car in again for the next ferry to Weymouth, a small town on the southern coast of England. This gave me a chance to explore the Jersey town of St Helier for a couple of hours. I’m not going to say anything about Jersey in this blog, but it will be the subject of a future blog.
The ferry to Weymouth was packed and it took quite a while to load all the cars on. The crossing was smooth and gave me enough time to almost complete the crossword in the Daily Telegraph and have a little snooze to catch up on lost sleep.
At the other end the first problem was to get out of Weymouth! It’s an old seaside town with narrow streets. When 120 cars are suddenly poured into the place everything grinds to a halt. There was little to do except keep patient and crawl from junction to junction.
Once I had escaped Weymouth I made good progress towards home. At 8pm I pulled onto our drive and turned off the engine. The trip meter read 1236 km (768 miles) and my brain said, “time for food, then sleep”.
Oh, and the packet of sausages was sitting in a pool of very cold water.
The plan now is to register my lovely car in the UK, but for now I will once again be “The only French car in the village”.
19th September 2011
As we drove our car off the ferry in Jersey (that’s Jersey the Channel Island, not New Jersey) I turned to Man and remarked how it only seemed like a week ago that I was last in Jersey. “Wait. It WAS only a week ago that I was last in Jersey!”
It was good to be on dry land again. When we drove onto the ferry in Poole harbour Man had said for about the tenth time that he loved travelling on boats. Man would always look forward to travelling on the ferries between the Greek islands back in the days when we would explore a different island each summer. Today we were on the fast catamaran headed for Jersey. After parking the car we made our way upstairs, found our allocated seats and settled down with a cup of coffee for the 3 hour journey to come.
Shortly after leaving Poole harbour the journey became noticeably bumpy. Within 20 minutes the boat was bouncing wildly from side to side and up and down. I started to feel a little queasy. Man broke out into a sweat and looked decidedly green! And he was not the only one. About half an hour into the journey it was evident that many of the passengers were feeling unwell. One of the stewards was assigned the task of touring the cabin with a large supply of sickbags and wet-wipes. I admired his ability to keep his feet with the boat lurching in such a violent manner.
With about half an hour of the journey remaining we entered calmer waters. I had managed to keep my coffee inside me and Man’s head finally rose from between his knees. The place was like a war zone. There were people lying on the floor and all the toilet cubicles on the boat were still occupied. Some people, including all the crew, seemed to be unfazed by the whole experience. I guess you must get used to weather like that after a while!
Jersey is quite a small island; roughly rectangular with dimensions of 5 miles by 8 miles. It has a mixture of long sandy bays in the south of the island and rocky inlets to the north. The roads can be very narrow in places and the speed limit over most of the island is 30mph. Nobody is in a particular rush to get anywhere and driving on the island is a pleasant experience.
We chose to stay in a hotel on the outskirts of the capital St Helier. The hotel itself was a very old building which had been an infirmary at one point in its history. It is run by an ageing couple who were born and bred on Jersey and they have maintained a very traditional feel to the place. It reminded me so much of the hotels my parents and I would stay in during our summer seaside holidays when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Dinner and breakfast were at set times. Guests would assemble in the very small bar for an aperitif before dinner. The only thing missing was the gong to announce the serving of the first course, at which point everyone would make their way to their assigned table. It was all delightfully nostalgic. I even took the opportunity to do something I haven’t done for years… “dress up” for dinner!
The food in the hotel was very traditional and dinner was always seven courses. It sounds a lot, but two of the courses were juice and coffee. Sandwiched in-between were a starter, a soup, a main course, a dessert and good-old cheese and biscuits. Thankfully there were always fish and/or vegetarian options on the menu and for £12 per person you really couldn’t complain. It was a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient than driving into St Helier for the evening.
Apart from the scenery there is a lot to do and see on the island. We took some time to visit Jersey Zoo, or the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as it is now officially called. Dress it up however you want, but anything which puts a collection of wild animals in artificially-created small enclosures outside their natural climate is a zoo. There was a lot of emphasis on the conservation work done by the Trust which I’m sure is very laudable, but I do wonder about the purpose of sending the gorillas born there to zoos in Australia and North America. The other thing that annoyed me a bit was not the £12 per person entrance fee, (everything on Jersey seems to be £12 per person) but the endless posters suggesting you should adopt animals, and the coin boxes asking for donations.
We also went to the Jersey War Tunnels. These are tunnels built by the Germans during World War Two using local and slave labour. They have been transformed into a very interesting museum which tells the story of the occupation of the Channel Islands by Nazi troops. For those of us who have never lived in an occupied land it causes you to stop and try and imagine what it might be like to have an occupying force mingling in your society. Would you resist, openly or covertly, or would you collaborate in the expectation that your life might improve?
The entrance fee was… I don’t need to tell you!
A few days into our holiday we jumped on a ferry to the French port of St Malo. This time I got to wander around the old town and the smaller suburbs to the west. It’s very quaint with it’s mixture of tourist souvenir shops, art galleries and overpriced restaurants, but that didn’t stop Man and I sitting down for lunch on a street café to watch the world go by. I revelled in my cheese and egg galette – a kind of thin pancake – and the opportunity to speak French again. Man and I both agree that being in France without the hassle of living there is an enjoyable experience.
After a few days on Jersey I couldn’t help but notice that most of the British tourists were rather elderly (I have to be careful what I say as I’ll be in that category soon enough, God Willing!). I put this down to the fact that all the children should by now have been in school. Man and I prefer holidays outside the peak periods because a) it’s quieter and b) there are fewer kids around. I don’t mind kids, but I don’t want to be surrounded by hundreds of other people’s kids for an entire week when I’m trying to unwind!
The age demographics of the tourists didn’t really freak me out. What did astonish me was just how many of them seem to return to Jersey for their holiday year after year after year. Most of the people in the hotel, for example, seem to have been visiting Jersey and staying in that hotel for at least 10 years. One lovely lady from Lancashire confessed that she had been taking a holiday on Jersey every year for the last 48 years! Man and I speculated on this a lot. I guess for Brits of a certain generation places like Jersey feel like a foreign country. You have to get on an aeroplane or a boat to get there. The climate is slightly better than on the mainland. It has a French influence in that all the streets have French names. But on the other hand everyone speaks English and the food is very British. Brits can be very conservative about the kind of food they eat on holiday! I guess for many people taking a holiday on Jersey is like going abroad without any of the hassle of being abroad (if that makes sense!)
We had planned to return to the UK mainland on Monday but the weather had other ideas. The remnants of Hurricane Katia arrived in the UK on Sunday night and our ferry home was cancelled. We managed to get a place on a special ferry chartered for Tuesday evening. Fortunately the hotel could accommodate us for an extra night and so we spent another day on Jersey visiting some of the places we had not yet been.
By Tuesday it was still quite windy and based on our experience of getting to Jersey we felt a pre-emptive visit to the pharmacy was required. Armed with our travel-sickness tablets we boarded the ferry. I can report that the ferry on the way home lurched around like a big lurchy thing but neither Man nor I had even the slightest hint of queasiness. Thank you, Travel Calm!
So that was Jersey. Even though the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant I can say that a good time was had by all. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be going back year after year after year – we are a bit too adventurous for that!
26th September 2011
Apart from my busy kitchen I’ve been spending a bit of time this week in the garden sorting out the fruit patch. The previous owners of this house had planted many raspberry canes but had not bothered with any form of control or support for them. The result is that the fruit patch had become over-run with raspberry canes. But worse than that it was almost impossible to get at the fruit to pick it. I know a lot of fruit was wasted this year and I’m keen not to repeat the experience next season.
I started by clearing a strip of ground ready to transplant the raspberries. Two blackcurrant bushes were sacrificed in the process, but I still have two surviving blackcurrant bushes which I moved in early August. The blackcurrants didn’t go without a fight. Their root systems are quite tough and spread out from the bush. It was all a bit too much for my spade. My energetic bouncing on the handle to try and lift the bush out eventually took its toll. The blade snapped clean away from the handle and I crumpled onto the floor! Only my pride was bruised and I went back to the shed to get the other spade…
I dug three deep holes and concreted in some fence posts. A series of wires between the posts provides support for the canes. Now the serious digging began!
The raspberries came up quite easily in comparison to the blackcurrants. I pruned out the dead wood and checked the root stocks for signs of new shoots. Only the fittest-looking canes found their way into their new home. After two days of digging, pruning, eating raspberries and dodging heavy rain showers I could look with satisfaction on Raspberry Row!
There were some important unexpected benefits of this process. Firstly I discovered a gooseberry bush that I didn’t know I had in amongst the raspberries. I’m leaving it there for now in case the gooseberry bush I transplanted in August has not survived. Secondly I discovered that I have a blackberry bush in the garden and it has blackberries on it! I love blackberries and I’m looking forward to making an apple and blackberry pie.
Talking of apples… I have a huge crop of apples that I need to deal with. I’ve bought myself a food dehydrator so that I can preserve some of them in dried form. I’ve made a couple of batches of dried apple slices now and I’m really impressed. They make a great snack and I can see that I can make some home-made muesli with them. They should also make a nice stocking-filler at Christmas. Damn! Now all my friends know what they are getting for Christmas…
I had a phone call this week from an ex-colleague. We worked together in the same team that I left and we have become good friends over the years. We started by talking about life, vacations, family, etc, but it wasn’t long before the subject of work was raised. I could feel myself getting tense and angry as my friend described the atmosphere in the group and the behaviour of my ex-boss. It hasn’t changed, and if anything it seems to have got worse.
Leaders have many responsibilities. They are responsible for the results of their teams. They are responsible for their team’s safety in certain situations. They are responsible for ensuring each team member understands their role, their primary objectives, and how that fits with the team’s objectives. They must know when and what to communicate to the team. They must understand the importance of delegation and trust their team to do their jobs, but at the same time they should know when to step in and help. They should be willing to listen to their team because their team members will probably know more than they do about the realities of their jobs. They should not be afraid to admit their mistakes to their team, nor should they be afraid to change decisions as a result of new information. And when a team member does a good job the leader must remember to say “thank you”. In my experience when you do these things as a minimum you become a trusted and respected leader of a team of motivated and dedicated people.
When a leader puts their own interests before those of their team; when a leader fails to delegate, or worse than that, they start taking the more interesting parts of the job away from the team; when a leader makes an error and blames a team member for the mistake in front of the rest of the team; when a leader fails to listen to team members or fails to recognise their contribution; when these things happen the leader ceases to be a leader. The team stops being a team and spends a lot of time focussing on the situation rather than the job that needs to be done. Those that feel they are able to leave will do so. Those that don’t leave become stressed and unproductive.
If you had asked me two years ago about my job I would have told you that the hours were long, the pay was great, and I was enjoying doing something I believed in. All that started to change in April 2010 when the boss I had worked with for 6 years retired.
At the end of the phone call my friend asked me how things are going work-wise… I said quite simply that the hours are long, the pay is lousy, but I’m having a brilliant time doing something that I believe in!