28 September, 2013

Men at work

I'm not easily shocked, but I was rather surprised by something a friend (let's call her Jane)  recently said to me.

A mutual friend of Jane and mine was having her garden remodelled and the work was being carried out by three young men. They were probably good looking, no doubt well toned (given the nature of their jobs), and certainly tanned because it was high summer. One hot afternoon, these young men were toiling away in our friend's garden, tops off due to the heat. Our friend happened to be at home and was clearly enjoying this spectacle because she rang Jane and invited her round for a cup of tea to view the three lithe bodies of display.

This seemed a bit much to me, really. I can understand noticing and quietly appreciating the spectacle by oneself, but inviting someone else round to, frankly, ogle seems to me to be taking things a little too far. If a couple of men did this to a group of women, it would be called sexist. So isn't it sexist in reverse as well? Or are our standards really that double?

21 September, 2013


Earlier this year, we had our garden redesigned and, as part of this process, we planted some new plants in the garden at the beginning of the summer.

We decided to involve our kids in this exercise and each of them was allowed to choose some seeds to plant. Our youngest daughter chose sunflower seeds. It said on the packet that the plants could grow up to seven feet tall, but we didn't really quite believe that. We'd seen lots of sunflowers that were much shorter--around three feet or so--and in full flower.

Our daughter duly planted the seeds and they did, indeed, grow and grow and grow. And they didn't actually flower until the second week in September when they were, as the packet had predicted, around seven feet tall. So, our cunning plan of creating some summer colour in our new garden had failed.

It was lovely to have colour in September, of course, but next year I think we'll give the sunflowers a miss. We'll perhaps instead aim for something that flowers a little earlier. And grows a little less.

14 September, 2013

Holiday forgetfulness

While writing my recent blog post on holidaying in Nice, I was struck by the transitory nature of experience and the inadequacy of our memories.

It's a common experience to find that, as soon as you're back from holiday, it seems like you've never been away. It's as if all that lovely relaxation, sightseeing, soaking up the sun, or whatever else you've done has just evaporated into thin air. Almost as if it never happened.

Yet I find that I have an additional problem -- actually remembering what I've done while away on holiday. Of course, as soon as you come into work, people ask you how it was, what you did, etc. And I find that I'm struggling to answer these questions because I can't actually remember.

This year I decided to prepare for this eventuality. On holiday, at the end of each day, I wrote down what we had done and the places that we'd visited. This certainly helped, the very act of writing my experiences down somehow better etching them in my mind. Yet, when I came to write my blog post about Nice, I still found myself diving for my copy of the Rough Guide to check that I'd got the details right.

Maybe I'm just getting too old to remember properly. Or maybe my mind is already too full with all the work, family, etc., etc. stuff that I have to carry around with me and remember every day...

07 September, 2013

Back to school

It was back to school this week for both my kids, so as soon as we returned home from holiday, we ran through the usual pre-school round of bag packing, checking name labels, thinking about what to buy for packed lunches, etc., etc. Back to reality...

However, for my oldest, it wasn't just a new year in the same school, but a different school altogether. She started at secondary. (I still can't believe that we have reached this stage so quickly. It seems not that long ago that she was a newborn baby...)

I had the honour of doing the first day of the secondary school run and, although my daughter was a little apprehensive, what really struck me was how nervous I felt. It was as if it was my first day in a new job, or perhaps my first day at a new school (although in truth, my memory doesn't stretch back that far and I have no idea how I felt on my first day of secondary school).

Despite the fact that my kids are growing up and becoming more independent by the day, it's interesting how close the connection between us remains.

01 September, 2013

Holidaying in Nice

We recently came back from holiday and, between loading seemingly endless piles of dirty laundry into the washing machine (despite the fact that we did quite a bit of washing on holiday--how does that always happen??), I found time to think for a few minutes about the place that we visited.

We stayed in an apartment overlooking Nice with a beautiful, clean pool that the kids loved. Nice wouldn't necessarily have been my top choice of holiday destination (it was just one of the destinations available to us using our Tesco Clubcard vouchers--see my earlier blog post), but in fact we had a great time and it's somewhere I'd thoroughly recommend.

For a start, the weather was comfortable in August--sunny and around 30 degrees. In the past we've had problems with extreme heat (almost 40 degrees one year in Malta, for example) which the kids didn't enjoy and which has been too much, even for us. But in Nice it was warm enough to really enjoy swimming in the (cold!) pool, but not so hot as to make sightseeing a chore rather than a pleasure.

We quickly settled into a pattern that suited everyone--mornings by the pool followed by afternoons visiting some kind of attraction. And there was a lot to see in and close to Nice. Again, a real bonus, as the kids tend not to enjoy long, hot car journeys when we're on holiday.

There's quite a bit of modern art to see in the area and, although we're not usually gallery buffs, we visited a number of exhibitions and all really enjoyed them. The kids were very interested in the abstract art and were so inspired, in fact, that they started creating their own modern art with paper and felt tips when we got back to our apartment. One art museum that I particularly enjoyed was the Musee Picasso in Antibes, where the building was probably even more stunning than the art--lovely light and airy rooms, and beautiful views over the sea.

Ancient walled towns tumbling down the hillside are common in this area, and two particularly beautiful ones that we visited were Eze and Vence. We also saw a fair few Romanesque churches boasting stunning paintings and altarpieces.

And a couple of the buildings that we visited really stick in my mind. First, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat--a mansion built at the beginning of the twentieth century for Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild. The gardens are particularly beautiful, inspired by different kinds of gardens from across the globe and culminating, in front of the house, in a lake and musical fountains (the water 'dances' in time to various classical pieces). The second was the Villa Grecque at Beaulieu-sur-Mer--a faithful reconstruction of a 2nd century BC Greek noble house, which was the brainchild of archaeologist Theodore Reinach.

All in all, a busy but very enjoyable holiday!