Thursday, December 28, 2006


Actually this should be a simple P.S. to the last post.

Nightmare trip to Meribel - up over the mountains which were all very pretty but definitely needed a metre or two of fresh snow to make them look totally 'carte postale' and as soon as we got into France, the traffic was atrocious - it was like being on the M4. Holidaymakers everywhere wandering around looking lost and probably the lack of snow on the lower slopes had driven them into the town to seek other amusement.

We arrived late in Meribel which is a purpose built ski resort and is most attractive, met up with the family and had lunch. This was okay (I can't say too much against it, as I wasn't paying the bill) but could have been much better for the price (yes, restaurants here in Verbier are cheaper...), the restaurant itself was very nicely decorated - all alpine, and cow bells and such like. The staff were totally useless and were more interested in their fleeces with the name of the restaurant embroidered on them, than serving the clients...they weren't rude but we didn't get one smile out of any of them and we waited soooo long. They haven't been working for more than a month yet, so God help the skiiers who arrive for the February holidays.

So after catching up on family news, off home we set. After driving up the first mountain with a zillion cars coming towards us, we decided to opt for the longer route and come home through Geneva and the motorway. Got home at 9 p.m. and went to bed!

The child wisely decided to stay at home for the day and I am sure he had more fun skiing over stones than we did! From Brother Number 3 I hear the snow is 'Okay' in Meribel but not wonderful.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Today I am taking the child and Brother Number 4 (who is staying over the Christmas period) to visit Brother Number 3, who is staying in Meribel with his family - the child will be off testing out the snow (or lack of) on the Meribel pistes, while we struggle to a restaurant to have lunch. My little four-legged friend will probably come too, as left at home for the day, he does tend to think he is on a seek and destroy mission.

The road from Verbier down to Martigny is not my most favourite but from Martigny going up to the frontier and over into Chamonix the scenery is gorgeous - better with loads of snow but often impracticable if it does snow. Verbier to Meribel is only 170km but will probably take two and a half hours plus stops for photos, coffees, a couple of sniffs for Angus - so soon I shall have to courageously wake the sleepers.

I am interested to discover whether Swiss ski resorts are in fact more expensive than those in France - I have my doubts. As far as restaurants are concerned, we have had some pretty grim experiences in French resorts, served by surly, overworked staff and pretty crap food - here in Verbier I can honestly say I have never had a bad meal and even at the end of the season the staff are polite and smiling, but maybe this is because they are paid two or three times more than their French counterparts.

I shall rely on the child for the snow conditions. After the heavy fall of snow about a fortnight ago, we have had no fresh falls - fortunately the temperature at night is between -5 and -8 so the snow cannons are working flat out. But every day is warm and sunny so the snow is melting fast. Pierre's new skis are totally wrecked already as he spends his time skiing over stones so he is now waiting for the 'real' snow to arrive to have them totally overhauled. Accidents on the slopes are rife at the moment as skiing on stones does tend to stop you dead in your tracks! The village is full of people with their knees bound up and hobbling around on crutches. In his 'gang' one chum broke his pelvis the other day and had to be airlifted to hospital, another has pulled the ligaments in his knee so can't ski for the rest of the holidays and a third has whiplash. Apart from messing up his skis, mine has escaped lightly (touch wood) with bashed knees and elbows and a small rip in his ski pants, but with conditions as they are currently I admit to trembling when the 'phone rings, fearing its a call from the helicopter crew telling me to get to the hospital fast...

However, snow is forecast from the 30th December for a whole week, so hopefully my visitors arriving for New Year will have perfect snow conditions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Over the past six months, both my children have had to renew their passports. My son's went through without a hitch; my daughter had to have three lots of photos taken before the last lot were accepted, despite going to an accredited photographer and him measuring the distance between the top of her head and the top of the photo etc. etc. etc. At €20 a kick, this starts to be an expensive business for four awful photos that are refused. Fortunately there was no panic for the passport.

Reading the Telegraph on-line this morning, I noticed the article "Murder suspect fled under Muslim veil" which refers to the man wanted for questioning in the WPc Sharon Beshenivsky murder. He apparently stole his sister's passport and heavily veiled, he flew to Somalia.

I have no wish to get into a discussion on the pros and cons of Muslims wearing veils, but I am annoyed that we are put through a flaming hoop to have a photograph taken that is agreeable to the Passport Office - no hats, no glasses, no smile, no hair hanging over the forehead and yet this is not international.

I received the attached photo the other week from someone - the title was "Pointless family photo of the year"!!

I'll run the risk of having a fatwah taken out on me, you can all blog as 'mice' if this post worries you!

Monday, December 18, 2006


Apparently, one now says 'Happy Holidays' rather than 'Happy Christmas' - far more PC!

I have had a very, very, very long day! The child woke me at 3 a.m. with a migraine and poor old lad was rushing to the bathroom being ill until 6.30 a.m. Even adolescents need their Mum when the going gets tough, so I found myself ousted from my bed in the middle of the night as it was invaded by Pierre and Angus (who decided to play night nurse). When he eventually dropped off I was tempted to grab a duvet and crash out on the sofa, but I had to ring the school at 7.30 to say he wouldn't be in, and by that time it really wasn't worth trying to get any sleep.

But it was worth it - the Christmas tree is up and decorated and looking very regal on the terrace - as it is snowing, it even has real snow on its branches! All the Christmas presents are wrapped and labelled and I even did most of the food shopping this morning - the only awful bit was that at the check-out I dropped a glass bottle of oil which spashed everywhere - fortunately I didn't have tons of people behind me so we were able to clear it up without moans and groans from other shoppers!

I'm not going to even try and write anything vaguely intelligent this evening - added to which, everyone has been getting horribly bitchy in the last 24 hours and settling scores with each other, so it's not worth it!

I thought I would just ask you all what you are doing for Christmas - staying put, going somewhere exotic, forgetting the whole thing, whatever ... we are staying put through Christmas and New Year, with an invasion of family and visitors and on Christmas Day we are having an ENORMOUS piece of beef with homemade Bearnaise sauce! New Year will probably be a 'plateau de fruits de mer' and too much champagne. My ex has invited himself and arrives just after Christmas and will probably annoy Pierre who hates skiing with adults and is only interested in doing death-defying tricks 'hors piste', so somehow I have to accomodate 10 people, 2 dogs, 2 cats in the chalet and all the ski gear that goes with it for 10 days and of course feed them all!

So I am moving into 'taxi' mode for ferrying from Geneva to here, and chalet girl - I'm just hoping my new computer will appear for Christmas and everyone will rush off to ski, leaving me to get it set up, in between cooking and cleaning! But it's all fun and I love having the chalet full of people!

Friday, December 15, 2006


As mentioned, last night I went to see "The Queen" starring Helen Mirren. It's true that she is marvellous in the role, and of course the physical ressemblance is quite startling (it's the hair that does it!). The other actors weren't so good but of course didn't look too much like the people they were playing, but it must be very difficult to find actors that can act and look like a living person. Charles was pretty well interpreted and of course Cheri came over as her usual vulgar self.

What I didn't know/had forgotton, was the film was based on the period when Diana died and my toes started to curl. I was never a fan of Diana and I think she did a lot of harm to 'The Firm', confusing being part of the Royal Family with Hollywood. When she went on television to explain the breakdown of her marriage, she should have been banished from the kingdom, in my view!

And ten years on, we are still talking about Diana, with the report published on the causes of her death. As she was a 'star' and died in tragic circumstances, I fear that the saga will go on for years and years - as with JFK or Marilyn Monroe - theories and counter theories will keep on popping up, adding fuel to the fire.

What has really annoyed me is that the report just published has cost £3.6 million of taxpayers' money ... 'People's Princess' indeed - I hope the 'people' are happy to have paid for the report which states what we all knew from the beginning, chauffeur over the limit, no seat belts, and high speed. Could be any of us couldn't it? But we don't have a father that runs an Egyptian bazaar in Knightsbridge (aka Harrods) and has enough clout to con someone into ordering a report that will be paid for by the taxpayer.

I can understand that al Fayed is mourning his son and that everyone has their own way of coming to terms with such grief; that it has reached such dramatic proportions, is another thing. A niggle at the back of my mind wonders whether he is also mourning the fact that perhaps his ne'er do well son might have married the ex Princess of Wales and mother to the future King of England, and of course that carpet has now been ripped out from under his feet.

With his enormous wealth, Fayed should have paid for this report out of his own pocket.

I take my hats off to the French authorities who did their job extremely well, did everything they could to save Diana's life, who acted with modesty and honesty in the aftermath of the accident and were treated very badly by the British, along the lines of 'Right, well thank you very much, we'll take over the case now, as you lot have probably made a hash-up'. I hope the French government send HM government the bill for all the work they did. The only blot on their report is the Fiat that no-one can trace ... if I had been the driver of that car, I would have destroyed it as fast as possible and emigrated.

Of course, the Press come out of this badly - but if one is in the limelight it comes with the job and Diana realised she had a ally in the Press and used them accordingly. Unfortunately they were her undoing. A terrible and tragic accident.

As Disraeli said 'Never complain and never explain' - a shame that Diana never took heed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Well, it shows that I am becoming totally stupid as the years roll by. Yesterday I went to Ikea. It actually started out with good intentions. I had seen a leather reclining chair in there some time ago which, surprise, surprise, was out of stock. When I looked on their site yesterday morning, it was in stock ... but before driving for an hour and a quarter, I rang them to make sure...yes, it was in stock.

At the same time I decided I would buy my Christmas tree there. Christmas trees in Verbier are so expensive that it is a luxury and so I thought I'd do a little for the Planet and buy mine at Ikea as if you take it back after Christmas, you get a refund and the tree costs you €1.00. Now of course when you think about it, there is absolutely no rhyme nor reason to this. My weedy effort to take back a dead Christmas tree means that I am being totally counter-productive with all the litres of petrol I burn going up and down the motorway - added to which I suppose the shredded trees find themselves recycyled into Ikea furniture which I will then go and buy.

And quite frankly, am I going to fill the back of my car with pine needles that I will continue discovering until next year. And am I honestly going to drive for two and a half hours just to recycle my tree and not go into the store? No, of course not.

Anyway, the quandry was solved for me as they sold all their Christmas trees on the first day! So along with a zillion other people, into Ikea I go. All I wanted was a chair - which really was in stock. But 'just in case' I picked up a yellow bag, and that is fatal. So along with the chair, I come out with a standard lamp, two picture lights, yet another load of Christmas lights, six tumblers, a pack of their three pairs of scissors, a few bits for stocking fillers and a dog bed! And I promise, I am not a compulsive buyer!

They say that every home has at least one thing from Ikea in it - this I well believe. The store was heaving yesterday morning at 1015 and it was a Tuesday - a 'quiet' day! And of course, once I had finished the shopping it was time for a snack - I've decided that I don't like their meatballs any more!

When I got home my daughter arrived, fortunately ... armed with yet another Allan key, we fought for an hour to put the chair together. The chair comes flat packed and one 'just' has to unfold the seat and the back and insert two bolts into the hinge where they meet. Simple, no? NO! It is impossible to do by yourself unless you do bodybuilding, but after an hour of getting hot and sweaty and a copious amount of swearing, we got the bloody thing together. And guess where it was made? Yes, China of course! I will spare you the details of putting the picture lights up...suffice to say the second one is still in the box!

And do you know where "Monsieur Ikea" lives? No, not in China ... Switzerland!

The one positive note on the day - Angus loves his dog bed. It's big enough to hold a couple of labradors and he hasn't yet learnt that you get in it - but as I type he is lying next to it with his head resting on the squidgy surround!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


No, we aren't going to continue with the guessing game with photos but can someone help? I photographed this strange monument in the summer of 2005 and have no idea where it was. It was taken in the Pyrenees as on the same day we visited St. Martin de Canigou - we stopped in the village for a picnic in the 'jardin public' next to the Mairie where we discovered this statue. It can't be far from St. Martin de Canigou.


The dreaded bloggers block has struck today - you will all be pleased to hear! So, while awaiting inspiration and just to keep you all on your toes, it's competition day! Guess where the attached photo was taken. Absolutely no prize for the winner.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Since moving here last year, we have had a few ups and downs regarding Pierre's education. When we left France Pierre had just turned 14 and had finished the 3ieme, and would have moved into the lycee had we stayed. As soon as we arrived in mid-September we went to see the Headmaster of the local state school and Pierre was enrolled immediately.

What a school! After his 19th century crumbling and tatty Jesuit school in Toulouse, this was a joy to behold. It was sparkling - so much so, we thought it had been recently opened - in fact it was 15 years old! Everything was totally spotless and I have never seen equipment like it. In computer studies, each child had his own Mac (latest model of course!), the desks and chairs were designed for minimum slouching, the food in the canteen was first-class (and lots of it) and in the domestic science room, there were twenty or so brand new 'pianos' with their own preparation areas, sinks etc. which would have put most restaurant kitchens to shame.

Yes, they did domestic science, and they all loved it - and the food they brought home was highly edible too! There were also woodwork classes, sewing (Pierre made a pair of the most zany slippers I have ever seen!), iron work (I can't think of the right word right now), and all of this along with the usual lessons.

The Swiss have long ago seen the light, and have a highly efficient apprenticeship system - once a child is in his 15th year they can leave school, do an apprenticeship or go on to higher education if their end of year exams are conclusive. About half of Pierre's class have gone into a three year apprentiship and the other half into higher education. Before doing an apprenticeship the children do work experience during their last year at school, so that they can really judge what their chosen profession entails. And when they do start work they are paid a good salary. Which is hard for those who continue in school when they see their chums in an apprenticeship who have money to spend that they can only dream about!

In France putting a child into an apprenticeship is basically considered as a last resort - not bright enough to go to the lycee so put 'em into an apprenticeship to keep 'em off the streets...of course there are exceptions but basically it's a dead-end thing. They do all the crappy jobs no-one else wants and are paid peanuts.

The equivalent of 'A' Levels here is the Maturite (accent on 'e') Gymnasiale or the Matu as it is called. Pierre couldn't go into that stream as he only had 12/20 in German (but not bad going after only one year of studying the language), so he went into the Matu Pro which is more or less the same, only it is more difficult to get into University - the Matu Pro invariably go to what used to be called a Tech in England.

By half-term I had realised that this school was not for him - his homework was rushed off in 10 minutes, there was absolutely no enthusiasm about his school (they all 'hate' it but do occasionally say they like a particular teacher or they did something interesting) and when I went to the PTA, I came out knowing exactly why he wasn't settling - it was AWFUL!

So after a bit of trawling on the Internet, I found him a private school where the children can either study for the Matu or the French Bac - we went to see the Headmaster who invited Pierre to go to the school for a week free, and that he and Pierre would meet at the end of the week to see if a) he was up to standard and b) if he enjoyed the school and c) see if the teachers liked him. I informed the 'old' school that he was going for a weeks' trial, explaining that they could offer the Bac, and the 'charming' Headmaster said that if he left the school, he couldn't come back! I had to really bite my tongue to avoid telling him where he could get off to! So, a slightly stressful week, and joy on the Friday when he was accepted, and the following Monday he became a proper student.

The Matu is in fact the highest of all the European exams - but only recognised in Switzerland! Pierre will be doing the Bac 'L' and armed with that he can basically go to any university in Europe through the brilliant Erasmus system. The Matu students have to sit exams to get into other European universities - but the system is changing and Switzerland has realised that their children need to study abroad, even though they have some brilliant universities.

Unfortunately the private schools in Switzerland don't run on the 'means' test as in France, and they are easily the price of private schools in England - fortunately the new school doesn't have boarders so the fees are far more affordable. But worth it I hope - already he has found his motivation and is happy to be back in the French system - even though it does mean he still has a lot of work to do on his German and they start Italian this year too! So all those years of Spanish have served to no useful purpose, school wise! And if he passes his Bac, it is the equivalent of 6 A* in England...and it seems that in England now schools are fighting to get their names down to offer the IB to their students.

So hopefully that problem is sorted out - I'm sure I'm still lots of things wrong, but am working on it!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Just a few photos this afternoon as soon it will be time to light the fire, get supper ready and organise things for tomorrow "Have you done your homework?", "Is your phone charged?", "Is there anything for me to sign?", "Have you got your season ticket?" - usual sort of Sunday night stuff which I try to organise in the evening rather than at 530am!

Firstly a photo of a helicopter which was parked in the town centre yesterday for the "Jib night" competition, followed by one of kids organising the 'run' in one of the main streets. Actually it was a bit of a non-event this year, probably due to lack of snow until the last minute, and then so much the night before the event, I think they were overcome! I took the photo an hour before the competition started, and in no way were they ready.

The last two photos are of a little Mountain-ash tree in my garden, the berries just about managing to peep out from under the snow - it is greatly appreciated by the birds and unfortunately by my cats, who have sussed out that berries = birds. The last photo is just an icicle on one of the gutters - the gutters on the 'vieux chalets' are in fact pine trunks hollowed out and nowadays are lined with copper. If you look closely at the photo, you might just see the copper 'lip'. I had my gutters replaced last year - they weren't lined and were distinctly rotten - but they were 50 years old!

Saturday, December 09, 2006


A photo taken from my office/dining room window a couple of days ago - today however we can't see the mountains and there is a definite lack of blue sky! The second is of course of my friend Angus taken this morning!


My small, four-legged friend has just come in all stiff-legged after his morning 'sniff' - the fur on his legs and tum have been transformed into a gigantic snowball. 50cm of snow overnight, and still snowing - winter is here at last! My garden is now out of commission until the middle/end of May and apart from the earth under the fir trees, no more green will be seen on the ground until then.

And I love it! A good thing really, living in a ski resort up in the mountains! I love it because it is 'real' snow and it comes down in large amounts and therefore stays white - the town centre of course becomes a bit slushy and brown, but as the roads are continuously cleared we don't have lumps of dirty snow everywhere.

The snowplough was out hard at work at 530 this morning, followed by the lorry salting the road and the private contractors are already at work clearing the drives of the chalets. I am hoping that with the amount of snow that has fallen the snowblower will go past the end of my drive and clear the enormous mountain of snow the snowplough so kindly left as it went through! The 'car postale' which is the amazingly efficient bus system here in Switzerland, has only once in the last ten years been unable to get down the hill from Verbier ... my son catches it every morning to go down the hill to the station, and lives in hope that there will be enough snow overnight to stop it getting through! But he forgets we are in super efficient Switzerland where they are used to snow for five/six months of the year and that a ski resort you can't access, means a loss of squillions of francs!

The centre of town is going to be at sixs and sevens this weekend - the first event of the season kicks off with the 'Jib night contest this afternoon. The road going from the town centre up to the main ski lift is transformed into a boarding and skiing competition over obstacles; the organisers were looking very grim yesterday as there was no snow for them to use to prepare the jumps on the course; normally snow is stock-piled for the event but there has been nothing to stock-pile. Not so now! But they are going to have their work cut out to get the course ready. The event lasts through the day and there are stands selling food and drink, ski companies selling gear, an open-air cinema showing various skiing and boarding films, a mountain rescue helicopter on display, and after the prize-giving at 10pm, everyone is off to the clubs for the first winter parties!

Angus and I will try and totter down to the village this afternoon to see the event - we will have to go the 'long way round' down to the village, as the shortcut we normally use won't be cleared and the snow will be over the top of my boots and poor old Gus will just disappear! He has a luminous collar with flashing lights for night walking - what I need now is a little flashing light to attach to the tip of his tail!

Hopefully I will manage to get a few photos, if I can publish them is another matter as having scrapped Firefox I don't think I can put them on the blog - but will shall see tomorrow!

Friday, December 08, 2006


Well, would you believe it? This grumpy old woman loves Christmas! The last few days the English press has been full of articles about how many offices won't be decorated this year as it isn't politically correct - what rubbish. And Nativity scenes without Jesus - I ask you. And all to appease 'minority groups' who apparently celebrate Christmas themselves. There was a big rumpus in France last year as a college put up a Christmas tree in their forecourt and was later made to take it down as it offended 'minority groups' - mind you, this was in the middle of the veiled students row...

And of course we should have loads of articles starting in the next few days on 'how to get through Christmas in one piece', 'receipes for the morning after', 'what to do if the turkey is raw', 'a thousand things to do with children over Christmas' etc.etc. And not to mention kick-starting the economy during the next fortnight - I see that people are still paying off their credit card purchases from last year...why do people have to eat too much, drink too much and overspend?

As children, we had the most wonderful Christmases - my parents divorced when we were young and both remarried, and they decided that special days should be celebrated together; it was probably difficult for them but we were so excited that any strain the atmosphere went totally unheeded. Canny as children are, we soon realised however that we could play one set of parents off against the other to see who would give us the most extravagent present and we worked this routine a goodly number of years before they cottoned on! "Extravagent" would perhaps be a new bike - nowadays bikes are as 'ordinary' as a new pair of jeans, despite their horrific price - however.

The one aspect of Christmas that was terrible was The Lunch - never again will I eat those hormone induced turkeys and I only ate the Christmas Pudding hoping to find the 6d (remember those?).

It is only in the last few years that my mother and/or my stepmother have relinquished their 'right' to do Christmas and so now the 'kids' are allowed to change the rules. My rules are that no turkey or Christmas Pud are allowed in our kitchen, the drawingroom must NOT ressemble Hamleys, the house MUST be decorated and the Christmas tree has to be covered with all the works - none of these black designer trees for me! And, most importantly, that none of the above causes stress, panic or family arguments. Oh, I forgot - the dog has to either have a bit of tinsel or a ribbon on his collar!

Even when my children were young, we didn't feel obliged to 'do' things with them over the holidays - Christmas in itself was enough. It seems now that the minute the present giving is over, there is a tendency to have to rush out to either change the presents, spend the Christmas money, or rush off to a theme park, paintballing, cinema or whatever, accompanied with wails of "I'm bored".

Last year was our first Christmas in Verbier and my brother and his family came to stay - the children were slightly put out as we postponed presents until the evening as Lucie was working on Christmas day, but with the snow and the sunshine and a super whizzy lethal sledge that I whipped out, this was short lived and off they went to see who could break a limb first. We went for a long walk with the dog, stopped and had a snack for lunch and all met back at the chalet at the end of the afternoon. For our Christmas 'Lunch' we had a couple of poulet de Bresse which were lovely and the only problem was with the parsnips which turned out in fact to be white carrots - the label on the packet was in German, but they sure looked like parsnips to me! A bottle of champagne for the aperitif, a couple of bottles of good wine with the meal (not Swiss, I hasten to add), a silly game and later a flop on the sofa to watch a new DVD, and we all had a happy, stressless, no argument day. Bliss!

This year I have another of my brothers coming with his girlfriend and we shall basically run along the same lines - he doesn't like turkey either!

New Year is however a different kettle of fish - the chalet will be full of friends coming to ski for a week and my ex - now that is stressful! However, the plan is to feed them an enormous breakfast, send them off skiing for the day and I and anyone else who is in non-skiing mode will struggle up and down mountains with Angus.

PS My raclette photos are non-existant - the table was totally trashed before I could get out my camera so the composition was not exactly pleasing to the eye, but it was damn good!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I have spent the day trying to recover my e-mail, which totally disappeared after my book posting last night. After setting up the blog initially, I move on to Beta - after many problems I discovered that it is not compatible with Safari so I downloaded Firefox - it didn't seem to be any better and definitely slower than Safari. It seems to me that after posting a photo yesterday, that is where the machine started to go wrong.

Fortunately my son also has a Mac, and his worked - he had a Wifi connection, I didn't - so using his internet settings I tried to reset mine - no way! In total disgust I shut down the laptop, I even banned it to another room incase I was tempted to throw it in the trash and went and did some mundane jobs. An hour later, feeling calmer, I go back to the laptop, and everything works! Why? I have absolutely no idea (I trashed Firefox) but so far, so good - we shall see if I can post this.

What annoys me is that after a night of snow, the weather here today was simply gorgeous - sun, blue skies and sparkling snow; all very 'carte postale'! And I wasted the whole day trying to get the laptop to respond. I took a couple of photos this morning but don't think I will post one yet - it might be tempting fate!

Tonight we are having 'raclette' - the real McCoy! I will take some photos and post them another day! Raclette was invented in the Valais, so we are spoilt for choice as far as the cheese is concerned. We used to eat raclette in France using our little Tefal raclette machine - we no longer dare bring it out here! The real way to prepare raclette is to melt it in front of the fire but unless one is properly equipped this becomes a hot, greasy and difficult operation. We now have a large raclette machine which is electric and nearly everyone now melts the cheese in this manner - I know of only two restaurants here that still melt the cheese in front of the chimney. The quality of one's raclette depends on the cheese and there are as many different raclettes as days in the year! We have a wonderful fromager here in the village who has some excellent raclette on offer but I must confess to buying tonight's raclette in Carrefour yesterday - they were having a 'degustation' so Lucie and I had a mid-morning snack and decided that it wasn't bad!

The raclette is served with cooked ham, air-dried ham, 'speck' which is in fact streaky bacon (air-dried too), viande de Grisons (dried beef), coppa, lashings of gherkins, pickled onions and the special raclette potates. I can eat 3 to 4 portions when I am really hungry - Pierre ate 11 portions in a restaurant last winter! Fortunately for me, it was a 'much as you can eat' formula!

The minus side of this dish is the smell in the house afterwards - the chalet smells of raclette for 48 hours, despite eating with the windows open! It's a good thing that blogs don't smell!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Firstly, I must apologise for the quality of the photo - taking a photo of a wonderful photo published in a book does in no way do it justice. Which is a great shame as the photos in this book, not that there are many of them, are as important as the text. The book in question is called "Let us now praise famous men", the photos are by Walter Evans and the text is by James Agee.

The two men were sent by Fortune magazine in the summer of 1936 to record the daily lives of white, cotton sharecroppers in the South - the result was this book which in fact is part of a larger work entitled Three Tenant Families. The book was published in 1941 and heralded as an historical record of a America that most Americans knew little about. Due to its publication during the War, it did not sell well, and it wasn't until the early '60s that the book was recognised as a frank eye-witness account of the terrible poverty and desperation in which sharecroppers lived.

These two young men set off on their assignment, it would seem little knowing what was awaiting them. Agee recounts their meeting with sharecroppers who couldn't understand why they should be interviewed or photographed and showed a certain amount of mistrust. But they were soon accepted by the community and moved from their hotel to live with the families whose daily lives they recorded.

Fairly early on in the book, Agee falls in love with Emma and she with him, although both of them know that it is an impossible situation:

"...and all I could do, the very most, for this girl who was so soon going on out of my existence into so hopeless a one of hers, the very most I could do was not to show all I cared for her and for what she was saying, and not to even try to do, or to indicate the good I wished I might do her and was so utterly helpless to do".

But this is an interlude in the book only - however Agee's affection for the families is obviously very genuine and helped towards their being able to live 'en famille' and to record the croppers terrible lives.

The photos are wonderful - however although there is a list of the names of the croppers in the book and their relationship to each other, the photos are nameless. Whilst reading the book, I spent my time going back to the photos, putting a name to a photo, but didn't succeed! I read this book a year ago, and as far as I remember I never discovered which was Emma!

I personally thought it a lovely book, descriptive, poetic, never patronising towards the croppers and their families and at the same time a fascinating insight into the lives of these people as it really was, and not as Hollywood would like us to think it was!

I was prompted to write about this book as the Library of Congress are running an exhibition called Bound for Glory (America in color 1939-1943) - there are some black and white photos in the collection however. You can view some of them online at:

I hope you liked my little review - I never thought writing about a book could be so hard!

PS : Thursday morning - the above link doesn't work - or at least if you click on it the link goes through beta.blogger and therefore the page doesn't open - I don't think I have quite mastered links yet! An easy way out is to google 'bound for glory' to visit the site!


Today was meant to be a post on 'books I have enjoyed reading' but starvation and bad weather reports have put that on hold and instead I am off down the mountain to go shopping at Carrefour. I hate supermarket shopping (and most kinds of shopping come to that) and have always been an advocate for on-line purchasing (apart from books!). When I lived in Toulouse I bought my food through an internet site and only shopped for fresh meat and vegetables. Unfortunately it doesn't exist here - the supermarkets will deliver but one still has to go through the hassle of pushing the trolley around, filling it, emptying it on the belt, stacking it into special containers and then giving the delivery man your goods and your address - 9/10ths of the job is done, so one might as well put the stuff in the car and take it home immediately.

So this morning I am off with my daughter to do 'stock-up' shopping - fortunately she loves shopping although my credit card gets pretty hot when I shop with her. And another problem that has reared its head - I now have to put on my glasses to read the labels on the packets - basically I buy the same sort of things, but since living here we have of course had to adapt to Swiss products as there are few French products in the shops at the moment (this is in the course of changing) - and label-reading here takes time! As the country had three official languages everything is written in French, German and Italian with the result that the contents/instructions are so minute that soon I will be off shopping with glasses and a magnifying glass!

The lad finishes school at lunchtime on a Wednesday and has made us promise to do the supermarket shopping before meeting him for lunch. He normally comes home on the train and the 'car postale' but he has to get stuff for his new school which he started this week and, horror of horrors, we have to go to a mobile 'phone shop as his 6 month old mobile 'phone crashed with him on the slopes the other week and the '0' no longer works - difficult when all numbers start with a '0'. Using a mobile 'phone in Switzerland (or Natel as they call them here) is a luxury - the operators charge the most ridiculous prices, so we are off to the 'Sunrise' shop as it would appear to be the cheapest...

And then the struggle back up the hill (8km of hairpin bends - about 15 of them, but I am convinced they keep adding to this number) to unpack the car hopefully before the heavy snowfall - especially as I haven't had my snow tyres put on the car yet.

So for those of you waiting with baited breathe to read about a book, I'm sorry! Today has been turned into a 'Mum's totally boring day when she can't wait to get home, flop down on the sofa with a large drink'posting!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I am a bookworm - I will read anything that comes my way, in French or in English. Classics, novels, biographies, children's books, airport books and even the rubbish my mother reads (which is just a little step up from Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon - neither of which I have read as far as I know).

And now a grump about where I live - there isn't a bookshop! The local newsagent sells books and when desperate I grudgingly buy a paperback, but it's not the same thing as going into a bookshop and browsing and spending far too much money! When I lived in Toulouse I was in readers paradise - Toulouse has the most bookshops in France per head although that can be a minus at times - which store to choose? One of my favourites was 'Les Ombres Blanches' which also had a splendid children's section. My children are also readers, even my 15 year-old son, but now we live in Switzerland his reading has declined ... I order him books on the internet, but it isn't the same as going into the bookshop, handling a book, reading the blurb, flicking through the pages and getting the general idea of the book, and the smell ... I love the smell of new books!

Of course there are some splendid book shops in Switzerland, and I've already spied a few in Lausanne, but we don't go there that often. So I am now reduced to ordering from the most unfriendly web sites such as Amazon and the Fnac and it has become a soul-less task - almost like ordering groceries on the net. I have a continually running mental list of books I want to read, but ordering for adolescents over the net is no easy task - yes, he should order his own books and not read what his Mum decides, but with a twelve-hour school day and a couple of hours of homework, would you want to order books from one of these sites?

As much as I love books, I was delighted to read a review a few months back on Sony's eBook - now, that is the thing for me! The reviews on the eBook were pretty mixed when talking about the object itself, and so far I don't think that there is an enormous choice of reading material; one of the problems of course being the copyright - so far the books published no longer have copyright, and eventually for the system to take off new laws regarding the downloading of copyrighted books will have to be changed. The advantages for me living in a barren area for books, is that I could just download a book in a flash onto this neat little machine as opposed to re-reading a book, which I can only do after a couple of years! Apart from the choice of books available (rather a large amount of airport reading matter) is its price - $350! But an interesting gadget especially for those of us who tend to nod off reading and awake to find a rather scrunched up book! If you don't know about the eBook, have a look at it on the web at

I started this posting with the intention of writing a sort of book review - but 'review' is rather pretentious - something more along the lines of 'A book I have read and enjoyed' and I had the firm intention of trying to add a photo which is necessary in the case of the book I'll tell you about later - it is "Let us now praise famous men" by James Agee and with photos by Walker Evans. Perhaps I will manage to write something later today - it all depends on the weather which is definitely looking snowy!

Monday, December 04, 2006


I love going home. "Home" being England. Or is it? I have realised that in fact I have spent half of my life away from "Home" - 20 years of living in France and now a year in Switzerland - but every time I return to England there is still that tug on the heart strings and the comfort of going back to where I grew up.

Times have changed of course, and when I go home I am a visitor - no longer my own bedroom with all the junk accumulated over the years - now I am in the guest room, which as children we thought very grand! But despite that, it is comforting to go back and be surrounded by things that have always been there - the furniture, the objects, the cold,crisp sheets on the bed, the jar of sea shells on the kitchen window that we collected over thirty years ago - without realising it, I check to make sure that everything is still there.

I have never been part of an expat community and often go out of my way to avoid those who grouse about not finding baked beans, salad cream, marmite or whatever in their new foreign life (although now you find English things everywhere in Europe). What suddenly makes me wish for England is when I see a programme on TV - the other day I was idly watching Ispecteur Barnaby (I think it was called Midsomer Murders in England), and although the contents were of little interest, I suddenly found myself looking at the gorgeous English countryside and the trim lawns, and the rose beds and the lovely houses.

Rose-tinted spectacles - most definitely! And of course when I do go home (as a visitor) we 'do' basic things that I miss, living abroad ... real pubs that serve real pub food, visiting a National Trust property, Wisley Gardens, catching up with friends - but of course this is not the everyday life of English people all the year round. And when I do take off my glasses, England has changed over the last few years and I'm not too sure it is for the better.

My home town has changed out of all recognition and if it wasn't for the fact that the High Street is still cobbled (but pedestrian now) it could be anywhere - all the old shops have long gone to be replaced by those one finds in any High Street in England, the market that used to sell potatoes, cabbages and brussel sprouts in winter has stocks of avocados and lychees, the car congestion is beyond belief and now there is the shopping mall - what terrible places, open seven days a week and filled with zombie-like people who, it would seem, MUST spend money. What on earth do they buy?

Would I go back? Who knows ... perhaps once the 'changeling' has finished his education and is pushed into the outside world ... but I shall have to take off my rose-tinted specs. first.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Feeling rather pleased with myself as my first words appear on the internet, I shall courageously press on - this time to talk about my struggle with the hi-tech world in which we live.

Being in the fiftysomething age group, my life has been turned upside-down in the last 10/15 years, thanks to the technological advances that seem to appear every day. As a child I used to laugh at my grandmother who, when the 'phone rang, would check her hair in the mirror before replying to the call (maybe she was anticipating the videophone), now I wonder what my children laugh at when they see their Mum struggling with stuff that they consider part of ordinary everyday life.

About eight years ago I bought my first mobile 'phone which was basically a waste of time as we couldn't get a signal where we lived; however time went on and the signal got better - after two years the screen died and as my children used to say I was 'telephoning from my telephone box' I took it back to France Telecom to change it - well, of course the lad who served me also said it should be in a museum, and out I come with a new telephone.

A few years later and a few 'phones later, I now have a mobile that seems to do absolutely everything apart from telephone - I'm not a mobile freak and use it only in desperation, but it would appear that a mobile 'phone that is just a 'phone, is now becoming a thing of the past. I do not want a 'phone that takes photos, films my friends, connects me to my email, wakes me up in the morning, plays music and all the other zillion of things that most of them seem to do. I have a camera, a computer, an alarm clock and a CD player in my home - I don't need to have all this stuff on my mobile, and invariably of an inferior quality. The children zip off SMS faster than I can type (and I use all fingers) - I take five minutes to send an SMS of four words.

We have a flat-screen TV that is 'HD Ready' with its zapper, we have a box for the satellite dish with its zapper, we have a machine to watch DVDs with its zapper - to set up the TV to screen a DVD makes me wish our cinema here was open all the year!

Thus saying, I have totally complicated my life by switching from a PC to Mac five years ago! And just to add to the pain, I have bought the new MacBook Pro for myself for Christmas. Us Mac users are apparently 2% of the computer owners of the world - once bitten, there is no return to Microsoft! But for the silly people in the world such as me who only use a fraction of their computer, these machines are the Rolls Royce of the computer world. The only problem is that many downloads aren't Mac friendly which means that one is left puzzling for a goodly number of hours and often giving up in sheer desperation - thus saying I probably have more understanding on how my Mac works than my children, who just press buttons with alacrity and lose patience immediately the computer doesn't work as they want. (I had to change from Safari to Firefox to set up this blog, for example...!).

I have never played a game on the Playstation, or the PSP, and can hardly see the iShuffle, let alone press the button to play music.

But a big thanks to my children who make me keep up with the latest developments even though at times I do ask them to set up the TV so I can watch a DVD!


Before creating my blog, I would often think of all the things I would write about if I had one; now the basic process is completed, my mind has become a total blank. So when in doubt, talk about the weather. And living in a ski resort, weather is of the utmost importance, especially at this time of the year.

THERE IS NO SNOW! Three weeks to Christmas and apart from a sprinkling on the high slopes, the weather remains obstinently sunny and warm. The first 'piste' opened up a fortnight ago, relying heavily on snow cannons, but that is all. The shops are reopening for the season after their autumn hibernation, but apart from the locals who come to ski on the weekend, the village remains desperately empty.

The chalets and flats that are empty for most of the year, are starting to be opened up by an army of cleaning ladies and maintenance people, and there are signs of the first very expensive and utterly non-PC four wheel drive cars invading the village; here of course a 'Chelsea tractor' is almost obligatory (when we have snow) but when I see an enormous Hummer with Geneva licence plates on it, I wonder whether the owner can actually use it in the city - let alone park it.

One of the joys of winter here is that the building work stops - through the spring and autumn the village bristles with cranes and enormous lorries carrying equipment as the locals sell off their land to people who pay millions of Swiss francs to build a chalet that will only be used a couple of weeks in the year.

An architect friend told me the other week that as constructible land has now more or less run out, there are certain unscrupulous architects that I suppose, with a few back-handers, are now getting permission to build on land that is in an avalanche zone. Apparently these chalets are super-reinforced but nothing stops an avalanche. The climate is changing for whatever reason, and this summer we saw avalanches in the mountains and one down in the valley where enormous boulders suddenly hurtled down the mountain for no apparent reason - the one in the valley put the local railway line out of action for three months.

I live in what is called a 'vieux' chalet - the locals say 'vieux' with a slight snarl in their voice - they are for some reason very proud of the expensive chalets with their hammans, jacuzzis and heated driveways (yes, yes!) but then complain bitterly that the local young people can no longer live here as the housing is too expensive. I just hope that my 'vieux' chalet was built by a local with knowledge of the village and if there is an avalanche it won't be swept away!

Friday, December 01, 2006


It all seems so easy when one replies to a posting on a blog; setting up one's own is a very different kettle of fish! I am already losing patience as bits appear and disappear, so like so many, this blog will hopefully get into shape over the next few days.