Monday, 31 October 2011

The Alphabetical Tourist: Angola

Kalandula Waterfalls by Paulo Cesar Santos
After a break from my virtual wanderings whilst I was  on foreign shores anyway, I've now headed back to Africa for the second time in my virtual and indeed actual travelling life, courtesy of my trusty laptop.  Now the first thing that's grabbed me about Angola is it doesn't seem to be baking hot.  It experiences the type of phenomena that I don't really understand that's based on weather fronts from seaboards and mountainous regions clashing.  Maybe I should have paid more attention in geography lessons at school.   Anyway, this milder climate would suit me as I'm one of those people who finds roasting themselves on a baking hot beach highly unpleasant rather than a relaxing experience.  I'd rather have a breeze and do a bit of beach combing or wandering around admiring scenery in mountainous regions.

Taxi in Luanda by Paulo Cesar Santos
Angola is a fertile land which, in the days of Portuguese rule, was self sufficient in pretty much all major foodstuff except wheat and exported the usual stuff like bananas, coffee, cotton and tobacco.  However, during its civil war which ended in 2002, some clever clogs thought that the countryside was a much better place to plant landmines rather than useful and nutritional crops!  It seems that the agricultural industry is picking up again  although is slowed by the presence of unexploded devices.  Nobody wants to run the risk of having body parts blown off whilst tending their veg patch so the country is reliant on expensive imported food instead. Isn't that crazy?   The country should be a tourist magnet with its beautiful coastline, wonderful inland scenery and ten or eleven national parks. However these aren't yet teaming with the wildlife that they once were, though introduction of species  is afoot  During the war many animals were poached by ivory hunters, eaten by starving locals or blown up. Yes, you've guessed it, it's those mines again. White giraffe are  apparently particularly susceptible due to their anatomy.

Transportation of Oil Rig of Angolan Coast by Paulo Cesar Santos
Furthermore it's a place that's stuffed to the gunnels with rich mineral deposits, gold, diamonds and yes, the black stuff.  Rumour has it that it's the largest exporter of oil to  China and Luanda, its capital, is the most expensive place in the world for expatriates to live.   So why isn't the loot coming in being used to improve the infrastructure, clear mines, speed up environmental projects and up standards of healthcare and education that are some of the poorest in the world? Well, it is but progress is slow.   It doesn't come as a complete surprise that human rights and monetary organisations indicate that corruption is rife.  There seems to be more than a just few greedy individuals who are taking more their fair share who could do with a swift kick up the backside.

Plan of Typical Atlantic Slave Ship
Whilst  Foreign Office advice to tourists,whilst dissuading them completely from visiting Angola, doesn't exactly instill enough confidence to make the masses rush out and buy tickets.   Still the potential for growth is there, and it could be a poignant place for those of African descent to visit.  Of special interest as a place to start to learn from about black ancestry  is a museum near  Luanda which is  housed adjacent to a church, the Capela de Casa Grande. Here heathen natives were baptised before being put onto ships to be sold to those 'civilised' Christian owners in the Americas.    And once the government get their act in gear there's no reason why those national parks could again among the choices for foreign tourist looking for a safari type experience amid beautiful scenery.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Object of Lust I Spurn Thee!

My heartfelt admiration goes out to the  frugalistas out there who spend just a pittance on clothing and still look fab.  My own budget for clothes remains relatively immodest and I'll admit that I do like to ring the changes.   However since limiting myself almost exclusively to planned six monthly wardrobe updates, coercing  Mama Lovelygrey into making 'rip offs' of  the high street clothing that I used to buy and upping the number of good quality secondhand purchases from Ebay  I've shaved my expenditure substantially.  With this considered approach  I'm finding that I fall in love with garments. Hence I want them to stick around longer and I don't feel the desire for so many replacements.    I'm aiming for a time very soon when each wardrobe overhaul comes in sub £100 inclusive of shoes and underwear and a few designer bits and bobs to boot.

Outside my bi-annual binges I try to keep out of temptation's way and have deleted all those notifications for sales that I used to get by email.  I don't wander around clothes stores either or trawl the charity shop racks.  Sadly, though I like the concept of buying secondhand on impulse,  all bar one or two of the things that I've purchased this way in the past don't represent good value because I worn them so infrequently.  But I can't stop those pesky pop up ads that try to seduce me into buying things that I wouldn't have known about without their presence every time I log onto to the Internet.  It's because of them I'm in lust with this entirely impractical sweater from All Saints and someone out there in the ether knows that I love.  All that's keeping me from freezing my shoulders off this winter is that it costs a cool £150, which is not substantially different to this autumn's total spend!  Now, I'm not a knitter myself, something to do with not being able to maintain regular tension, but surely with a pair of scissors, a needle and thread and perhaps a packet of dye, I could make some nifty alterations to an Ebay cable knit if I'm still in lust during next year's splurge?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Just Finished Reading: No and Me

Is it just me that thinks that Richard and Judy seem like an odd coupling?  On first glance I'd imagine him with someone far more doe-eyed and delicate and  Judy to appreciative a rough and ready stubble bearing stud rather than her clean cut metrosexual husband.   But who am I to match-make?  My attempts in the past have been  truly woeful and my 'victims' have been known to beg me never to attempt to pair them off again!

The couple who declared their compatibility at every opportunity during  their frequent interviews when they were part and parcel of the British daytime TV scene are much more elusive these i days. Their  brave move from a mainstream channel to a smaller operator seems to have been the major factor in contributing to their on-screen demise.  However their bookclub still exists and now is exclusively linked to WH Smith.  It again teaches me another lesson about judging books by their covers.  Based on appearance alone, if I had to hazard a guess about their literary habits, I'd put Richard down as a reader of the Financial Times and Judy - well she'd be devouring Mills and Boons romances at a rate of knots.  Yet again I'm way off kilter  Their selections are very different to this and are often right up my own street.

No and Me, the first novel by the lyrically named Delphine de Vigan, is one of their choices which I've enjoyed hugely.  As a translation from its original French language edition it's been appropriate reading during my Breton holiday.  It's about a highly intelligent Parisienne, a nerdy, precocious, physically immature  adolescent who occupies herself carrying out bizarre social and scientific experiments which I found amusingly endearing and entirely in keeping with her character  However, my  own experience as a geeky academically inclined youth causes me to doubt the realism of her relationship with a homeless girl that she befriends during research for a school project and the class hunk who  falls for her.  The latter scenario just doesn't happen in secondary schools.  Young boys, even those with a thoughtful disposition, are much more inclined to veer towards the predatory uber-cool femmes fatales.  It's got something to do with a biological preference for beauty over brains!   Even so,  this is a touching well written story that addresses themes of youthful transition, mental illness and homelessness in a sensitive  intelligent way and as such I can recommend it as a story not to pass by if you come across in it a library or secondhand bookshop.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Bimbling Beyond the Boardwalk

If I'm honest I have to say that my first impression of Benodet wasn't that favourable.  The season for these Breton seaside towns is very short lived and by the end of September many  traders, hoteliers and campsite owners have shut up shop and will not reopen again until June.  This leaves resorts like this one looking decidedly lacklustre.  But after I'd ventured past the main boardwalk area of the seaside promenade on my ill fated bike ride the other day I started to warm to the place.  Beyond the casino and the thalasso centre where apparently, white coat clad therapists do strange but entirely chaste things with sea water, the coastal scenery is stunning,  This time we set off in the other direction from our hotel, with me on foot and Louis on his scooter for a morning stroll in the drizzle.  I was very taken by this cormorant colony on  their offshore rocky perches.  Or could they be shags?  In silhouette from a distance these birds are far more aesthetically pleasing than when viewed close They've got an oily appearance as if they'd gone for a swim in a deep fat fryer.  It's not a good look.

What I love about coastpath walking is that the scenery often changes dramatically around each corner.  We escaped the bustle of the main town and arrived in this tranquil rock pool dominated landscape in just a matter of a few minutes.  Here we resumed a near impossible task we've set ourselves - to find an empty sea urchin shell.  I discovered this rare treasure about two years ago on a Breton beach but unfortunately in his enthusiasm Louis broke it so we're looking for a replacement.  My guess is that as they're so fragile  they're normally smashed to pieces  by the waves before they get to shore which coupled with relatively rarity of the species means that they're quite hard to find.  Still, we'll continue looking and if we're successful our find will be kept wrapped in a cosy box lined with lots of cotton wall to keep it intact.  We just found a washed up lobster pot today.  No free food for us though.  The crab caught inside it had met his maker long ago.  All that was left of him was his claws.

As we were heading back the rain stopped and yes, those are glimpses of a glassy blue sky  that I spotted above a very tranquil sea.  Louis thought the distant land was England but he was way out given that this is the Atlantic and there's a ninety minute drive to the channel coast from here.  I wasn't sure if those marvellous fluffy clouds on the horizon boded well for sunseekers and it turned out that my meteorological musings were correct.  Later in the day the big grey clouds moved in again, dominating the sky. That Indian summer that I'd hoped might make an appearance for a bit of this this holiday now looks less and less likely.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

We Need Daddy!

When you're in a green and verdant landscape like Brittany it's sensible to remember that it has to rain quite frequently to keep it looking its best   Sunny interludes,  like the one depicted here in this  autumnal scene on the estuary at Benodet must be viewed as a blessing.  On this glorious  day Lou and I decided to explore the area on our bikes and found this beautiful beach just before we arrived at the posh marina where my back wheel lost its mojo!

Now I'm not a complete girly wimp when mechanical problems strike but surprisingly I have to confess that even though I've been a keen cyclist since the age of ten I've never administered treatment to a inner tube with a faulty valve. 'WE NEED DADDY!' was the immediate cry from my sexist son as my tyre completely deflated.  He was even keen to procure the  services of the nearest available male, an elderly non English speaking Frenchman to carry out the repair.    I declined his offer and walked my injured mechanical beast of burden back to the apartment.

Now I'm on holiday in a country which is home to many passionate cyclists in the world as evidenced by the fact that it's the host nation of the Tour de France.  As such it seems that every supermarket  nurtures those participating in what must be viewed a national sport and stocks  an amazing array of bicycle spares and tools. Yesterday I bought a new inner tube and other bits and bobs found at my favourite hypermarket, E Leclerc.  Did I need a 'real man' to don his overalls and do the repair for me?  Did I heck but I took a little bit of advice from a 'virtual' chap.   I found the lovely calm Tony  on the Internet who reassured me that my investment in tyre levers had been a wise one as he doesn't advocate the age old habit of improvising using spoons.  He then guided me through the entire procedure including - get this! -  bits I'd already sussed out with my old air filled girly brain.   Proof indeed there's no reason why modern women shouldn't get stuck into those traditional fella's jobs.  After all with a good set of instructions its just the same as following recipes or a sewing pattern!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

'S Inuit Innit?

How do you recycle that spare moose skull that you've got hanging around?  Well,  I've returned to the photos taken on our  visit to Oceanopolis at Brest to show you.  This beautiful piece of art, carved inside and out by Lukie Airut  that is replete with people and animals from the cold North has opened my eyes to the wonders of Inuit art.  And there was more stuff displayed in  the faux (but nicely done) icy nooks and crannies as we entered the attraction's Polar Zone that caused my inner Essex Girl arty being to sing with joy.  Hence today's title.

This was another piece that I loved which again alludes to the culture of people who live a very different life from my own.   The animal loving English would be drilling a hole in the ice just to say hello to the cute seal living below.  Somehow I think that this chap has other plans!  Sadly I was a bit negligent and didn't record the talented artist's name but it could be by Noah Kelly, who sounds more Irish than Inuit or the more authentic sounding Peter Iqaluq.  I think that this is carved from green serpentine, that my extensive research has shown can be  found all over the world, including Cornwall and Quebec.  I must head down to my neighbouring country to see if I can forage a piece once the stone supply in my back garden has depleted.

In order to demonstrate how crap my cataloging skills can be, here's another wonderfully intricate carving that I caught my eye during our visit.  Sadly, I've no idea who created it or even, to within many thousands of miles, where this accomplished artist was from.  All I know is it's definitely not from the chilly top of the Northern Hemisphere this time.  If my memory serves me in any capacity at all, I believe that I spied it in the Tropical Zone where my lovely shark friends were housed.  If any of them had a tooth missing perhaps I've located it.   Again it's another example of how animal parts that can't be eaten, woven or made into glue can be recycled to good effect to make something that looks like an innovative cross between Caspar the Friendly Ghost and the Michelin Man!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Brest is Best

If you're a dyslexic mum-to-be who's arrived at this post after a Google search about the best food for your new born let me apologise profusely.  Brest is not a misspelling of a synonym for the mammary gland but is a city in Western Brittany, known for its naval history.  It's home to an aquarium which makes the one at its twin town  Plymouth, the UK's largest, look rather like a outsized goldfish bowl in comparison.

On prior visits to Brittany it has been surprisingly mild. During a visit one February, children were on the beach in swimming costumes,   I kid you not.  Yesterday though was not like that.  For a couple of hours day turned to night and the rain was torrential.   So,  I was glad that I'd anticipated the weather amd planned a visit to the indoor attraction  Oceanopolis , home to three different complexes housing sea creatures in polar, tropical and temperate areas of the world. Here are the sharks in their warm pool watching the tourists watching them.

Now aquariums are great places for experimenting with cameras and during our visit I took near on two hundred shots of which only about ten are half decent, like this lovely photogenic turtle who posed for me with supermodel expertise.  Remember the 'good old' days pre-digital photography when taking  a similar number of pictures would have cost an absolute fortune and those fifty  images of smeared glass with a flash reflected in it would have been preserved for prosperity rather than being instantly erased?

Here's Louis waiting for the sea lions to emerge in the polar zone. You'll notice that he has some creatures on his person that do not immediately conjure up thoughts of marine life, although I'm sure they were prevalent on olden day's ships.  These are bargain 99 cent IKEA rats and I'm sorry to say that we made our second visit in three days to the mecca of the Scandanavian flatpack.  Our nearest store is Bristol, an hour and a half away.  Rumour has it that the crusty old councillors in Exeter turned down the chance to have big royal blue retail unit there as they didn't think that it would be popular.  Further tittle tattle suggests that  one at  Plymouth has been on the cards for the last five years! So Louis availed himself of the rare opportunity to purchase Swedish  rat 1 (Lovelygreyrat) on our first visit on Saturday. Yesterday we returned back for some nifty crockery racks for the motorhome,  rats 2 and 3 (Snowy and Brownie)  and a bargain lunch.  In this region where the crepe and moules mariniere reign supreme, Swedish meatballs seem to be a welcome change for the natives. The restaurant was packed!

Monday, 24 October 2011

French Heinz

Morning folks - rather optimistically I'd hoped that the climate in Southern Brittany would be akin to the Meditteranean all week but it's wet and blowing a hoolie today. Best to plan an indoor activity and I've got something in mind that will make an eight year old happy as Larry.  By the way, does anyone know who Larry is?

After our second visit to the supermarket , the remainder of yesterday was spent chilling in the apartment and swimming in the invigoratingly cold pool.  Louis has befriended some French kids and played with them for most of the day and I've been doing pretty much nothing but relaxing.   As I don't want food preparation to hinder inactivity or to spend a fortune on eating out,  I'm keeping meals simple.  At home I spurn ready made tinned and chilled soups in favour of the homemade stuff but here in France, the bottles of soupe de poisson are a special treat.

In England when we  think of food processing companies using the whole of an animal our minds immediately turns to sausages or burgers made out of unmentionable sinewy parts of animals.  This Breton soup is similarly made out of  less marketable bits and pieces that are by-products of the fishing industry but its a superb product which is a large scale example of how leftovers may be used to good effect.  The ingredient list on the bottle shows that the fish used varies according to what is in the catch at the time that the batch is made.  The stock is made from vegetables, herbs and spices and the heads and shells of langoustines.  Served with croutons, 'grated' cheese (see my post re: lack of kitchen equipment here) and rouille, a type of garlicky paste, it knocks the socks of a tin of Heinz tomato as my small fish loving companion agreed!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Techno Update

Back in the late eighties I was a bit of a I.T wizard in the scheme of things.  I could programme in BBC Basic, make changes to the DOS operating systems on early PCs and use the early clunky word processing and spreadsheet packages like Wordperfect and Supercalc.  I nearly got a job as a trainee software engineer in BT but opted for being a trainee tax consultant instead.  Nowadays I reckon I'm in the middle of a spectrum that extends between a soil encrusted Luddite and the wired up technogeek.   I'm uncomfortable with the notion of being available 24/7 so am rather pleased about being out of contact when I've 'forgotten' my mobile phone.   But instant access to information rather than endless fruitless searches  in the local library and the ability to change written documents at the touch of a key without the need for making scrubby pencil revisions have transformed my life to the extent that I'd never advocate a return to 'the good old days'.

Eight months ago I wrote about extending the life of my Samsung Omnia phone  with a quick eight quid repair job.  This gave it a new lease of life but, like myself, the poor old thing is now showing its age in more ways than one.  Its well used screen was now starting to play up again , the battery discharged itself at a rate of knots and that's if it charged at all due to increasingly dodgy mains connection.  Major electronic surgery would have been needed and I decided to retire the thing.  After all it has given me three years of hard use from when it was bought secondhand.   So did I go with the Apple iPhone 4s that seems to be the most covetable thing on the planet at the current time?

My regular visitors may have guessed that I'm not the type of girl who has to show off my toys  in the playground so the answer is 'no' even though I told a small white lie to the kindly  Parcelforce chap who delivered my new toy.  He was under the impression that I was excited to see him because  he was the bearer of the latest super-duper techno-gizmo and I didn't want to disappoint him.  He wasn't to know that   I'm always perfectly happy to stay behind with the latest innovations - a sheep rather than the shepherd when it comes to new gadgetry, software and web innovations.  But I felt that it was time to move onwards and upwards in relative terms and it would now be desirable to get portable Internet connectivity that I could use when abroad on a screen that was big enough to see the text.  I've gone all Android and opted for Samsung's Galaxy S which has now been superceded by now much more desirable version 2.

I'm quite a flexible thinker and will change my mind if presented with convincing arguments. So  whilst I thought I'd never have a phone on contract I've ended up with just that!  Whilst scouting around for a good deal I found offering a reconditioned handset with their cheapest package of calls, texts and data that's more than enough to meet my needs.  The fifteen pounds monthly that I will pay for my two year contract is less than I would have paid for an equivalent phone and my usual 'Pay as you Go' minutes.   But how to avoid being  stung  for thousands of pounds for modest surfing  activity whilst in foreign lands?  I've sussed that  Orange France have a flat weekly rate of nine euros unlimited data use on their 'Mobicarte Prepayee' so  I've just swapped my sim with one of theirs to make use of this offer. What's more  I delighted that  this new fancy pants technology means that I have dongle free laptop use too.  All familiar stuff to the communication fashionistas out there but to someone who's advancing towards hi-tech fogeydom it's really quite a revelation!

Losing Cherries.

After eighteen months or so, yesterday I finally fell silent and  broke my resolution to publish something on my blog every day.  Although I'm self admonishing myself a little this is being countered with the thought that 590 or so consecutive posts isn't bad going.  And, as a further salve to my conscience I'll roll out two today!

So, the reason behind my omission?.  Well, I had every intention of rustling up a late offering yesterday evening but, thanks to a really busy day and a glass or two of a very nice chilled white Saumur I fell asleep before I could write.  Madness has struck.  Instead of staying at home with Louis for half term I thought that a trip to France would be more relaxing and positively aid my convalescence.  The rationale was that, after I'd got the day of travelling, shopping and unloading the car out of the way,  I'd be free to focus on building up my stamina doing nice things like cycling, walking and sightseeing without having to concentrate on my seemingly never ending task of getting the house into shape after four months of relative neglect.
You can tell that you're by the sea in Brittany if you go into the  church and find objects that allude to maritime tradition. Here in Benodet there are lovely model craft hanging from the stone arches.  We've hired a holiday  apartment here which in typical French style is equipped with a pressure cooker and an oyster knife but has no cheese grater or cereal bowls!  Still it's clean, warm and comfortable and there's a pool on site.

What act has caused me to lose my cherry, so to speak?  Well, my chauffeur, Mr Lovelygrey, is not with us as he had to work.  So, yesterday was the first time that I've driven in a country where it's compulsory to travel on the right hand side of the road. And I've found that if you keep your wits about you, it's not the big deal that I made it out to be.  I may even pluck up the courage to bring the motorhome next time.  Louis also had an important initiation of a retail kind,  his first ever visit to Ikea!  That's the reason why he's pictured  in a 'spy chair' planning the layout of his ideal Swedish home!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Nearly Nornal

Each term, Louis' school has a theme which guides his learning.  This time around it's ancient Egypt. A mind buzzing with information about pharaohs, hieroglyphs and pyramids might have been the reason for a strange request from my son shortly after I was discharged from hospital. 'Mummy, if you die, can I turn you into a mummy?'  My answer was a resounding no on two counts.  I have no intention of ascending to the ranks of dearly departed anytime shortly and, unlike a former local taxi driver Allan Billis, didn't  fancy having my body preserved for posterity.

Yesterday was quite a momentous occasion on my road to recovery. For the first time in four months my activity levels were nearly normal.  Okay, I rose later than my usual 6am start and needed a rest after lunch but other than that, I was  back to my normal busy self.  After dressing Louis in the costume and bling I'd rustled up for his theme day, I walked him to school down the lane ignoring his protestation about not wanting to be seen in a skirt.  I stuck around to hear the brilliant  Steve Manning, a professional storyteller impersonate Howard Carter recounting his discovery of 'Toots' tomb before dashing off to Newton Abbot to meet a friend for coffee and a bit of shopping.  Then home for  a cup of tea and a lunchtime bagel followed by my lie down and a bit of a tidy up.  After picking Louis up from school we whizzed around in the car doing errands and then back to school for the end of term disco where I set up and manned the snack stall for two and a half hours!

I wouldn't have thought anything of doing all this when I was fit and healthy but currently it's given me a real sense of achievement.  Most of all, I'm enjoying being fully involved as a mum again.  Now, it's a question of building up the momentum so I can sustain busy-ness on a daily basis in preparation for a long awaited return to work in just under four weeks time!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Why Buys Part II

I really enjoyed producing my 'Why Buys' post last week so I thought I'd do another one!  This time I decided to visit an online retailer and where better to go than Ebay in my search for things that I haven't a clue why anyone would want to buy them.   I've certainly had more than a giggle or two in my search for worthy contenders for inclusion.   However, to be fair to the sellers I'm featuring I've given a link to their shop just in case I've highlighted something that happens to be must have item for one of my visitors.

Let's start with frippery for our cute and cuddly friends. All you rodent lovers out there please correct me, as a non pet owner,  if I'm wrong but I'm having trouble imaging how providing a  stripey hammock for your pet ferret improve its sense of well-being.
This double chocolate melting pot  narrowly beat two other serious contenders for inclusion - popcorn and candy floss makers.  Even though it has been endorsed by celebrity chef Rachel Allen, I fail to see how that's going to stop it being relegated to the back of a dusty cupboard for the 99%  of its unwary purchasers.  Wouldn't a couple of saucepans do nicely?  You could also use one of them to recreate the fairground atmosphere and pop corn too!

Feeling a bit lardy but craving sweeties.  Never fear help is at hand.  Each of these  inhalers,  costing nearly a  couple of quid each, contain eight to ten puffs of air infused with mico-particles that land on the tongue and give the taste buds a chocolatey treat without add inches to the thighs.  Couldn't you just lick and sniff  a much cheaper bar of Dairy Milk and get the same effect?

However if you take my advice and unfortunately find yourself troughing an entire family sized confectionery bar rather than just imbibing the fumes, it seems that help is at hand.  Just take evasive action against weight gain and purchase one of these attractive vinyl sweatsuits  to shed those excessive pounds.   Surely weight loss due to dehydration can't be money well spent.  And bin bag chic would only be a major lure if you've got a particular perchant for the likes of Fungus the Bogeyman.

For a teenage Lovelygrey a set of 142 lipsticks to choose from and experiment with would have seemed like a dream come true.  That is, until the only  two that I used on a daily basis ran out and I was left with 142 colours that didn't suit me.

Pretentious moi? How have I gone so long without wine glasses that cut down all those wasted minutes spent letting my my special offer red from the Coop  breathe so that it perfectly compliments my deep pan pizza.
Has the world gone mad? It seems unfeasible that a person lazy enough to need a self stirring mug would be able to muster up the strength to crawl to the benefits office to raise the £9.95  needed to buy it.  The poor dear would have to undergo the terribly strenuous ordeal of persisting with using that twenty pence teaspoon.

And of course I've saved the best until last. Who could think of using £10.99 in a more useful way than to perk up a flagging love life. What could that sum buy?  Some ingredients for a special meal, a nice bottle of wine, some flowers or chocolates....or a pair of pawprint pasties.  Now that should raise the passion stakes nicely!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Recreating Christmas from Our Childhood Past!

It's nearing Christmas and for those with kids on their present list, thoughts often turn to that wholesome golden oldie that happens to be excruciatingly painful if you tread on a piece. Yes you've guessed  -  it's Lego!  I've written about how this toy has changed over the years before .  In our day it seemed to be marketed as much more of a vehicle for imaginative play whereas nowadays kits to build specific items  are sold.  In my last post on the subject I had the idea of doing a brick audit and then reselling complete sets that had already been made on Ebay.  Who was I trying to kid?  That's far too much of a faff.  However I have discovered the 3 in 1 sets where a trio of creations can be made from the same pieces which are good value.  This glorious T-Rex can be transformed into a gruesome deep sea fish or a a crocodile.

This week's post brought a surprise arrived for Louis from Mama and Papa Lovelygrey.  It's so brilliant that I thought it was worth sharing to provide inspiration for those stuck for an idea of what to buy primary school age children, who these days seem to have everything.  It will inspire them to unleash their creative spirit and return to the 'good old' days when that box of assorted bricks could make them any toy that they wished for.   There's even ideas on how to make storage items such as a display rack for little Lego people and desk tidies.  Of course Amazon will happily sell you this book below the recommended retail value.  But  if you spend over £25 in total and qualify for free postage, the Book People currently stock this book at the best bargain price of  £4.99.  Just click on the link for as long at it lasts!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Forgotten Clutter

Now my va va voom is slowly coming back I'd like to be spending more of the time when I'm not resting doing pleasurable things like crafting, writing and exploring the outdoors.  But alas!  My inner housewife has got other plans.  I've a home that's just had cursory cleaning for a good few months since I started to get unwell and that pesky little fusspot inside my head isn't going to let me rest until things are straight.

Yesterday I turned my attention to our main bedroom.  I took four bin bags of stuff down to the car to give to the charity shop and  summer clothes that I'd sorted over a week ago were at last shrunk into their  vacuum pack bags.  Whilst popping these onto the top shelf of the wardrobe my attention turned to the plastic storage bin where we keep medication, cosmetics and toiletries and decided that sorting out our lotions and potions was long overdue.

And by that I mean way over!  Some of the stuff in there had expiry dates going back as far as 2003.  There were tubes without lids, sticky bottles and quite a number of duplicate purchases.  There was enough suntan lotion to slather up a school full of pale skinned kids. What's more this isn't the only place in Lovelygrey Villas where this stuff is stored.  There's a heaving bathroom cabinet in the ensuite and more on the main bathroom shelves including two different types of nit lotion that was last needed about three years ago!

This normally thrifty chick sees definite room for improvement here.  Perhaps with medication some waste is inevitable.  After all once better you're not going to keep taking tablets just to use them up.  All those unnecessary purchases of stuff that we already had though, is something that I'm super keen to avoid in the future.  So after throwing away a large carrier bag full of outdated stuff and given the box a good scrub to remove the gunky deposits stuck to its innards I've come up with a new system.  Recognising that multiple storage sites around the home was part of the problem, the box is the only place that this stuff is now kept.  The only exceptions are things that we use on a daily basis which have now been returned to a very sparse bathroom cabinet.  It'll now be much easier to keep a check on what we already have before heading out to the chemist.  And by scheduling into my diary a regular clean and clearout of the box every three months so that things that are really no longer needed can be thrown out in a timely manner and don't create clutter in which things that are still useful can be easily buried and lost.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Alphabetical Tourist: Andorra

Yay!  I've finally got to a country that I've visited, and as such know a little bit about.  The tiny affluent principality of Andorra snuggles between France and Spain in the Pyrenean mountain range and  is a mecca for cheapskate skiers.  Being one myself  I've already booked a holiday for 2012 which is about as thrifty as it gets given that the Lovelygrey family are going to indulge in a winter sports break in the notoriously expensive  February half term.

So now I've been off to find out some previously unknown facts that don't involve tourism or the vast duty free sector that renders the capital, Andorra la Vella,  a rather featureless town filled with supermarkets stocking what seems like every brand of cigarettes and alcohol under the sun.  I found a 'brew' housing a dead lizard when I was last there.  It made the tequilla worm look amazingly lightweight.

Fact No. 1: The sound of dib dib dib will not be heard ringing around the mountains here unless visiting uniformed youth groups come  on holiday.  Neither will young Andorrans be familiar with the term 'woggle' (or its equivalent in Catalan).   Despite having a population large enough to sustain it, this is one of the few places in the free world that the Scout Movement do not have a footing.  Perhaps there is enough wholesome year round  activities here to tempt youngsters to do things independently without needing to be bribed with marshmallows around a fire.  Oddly enough Andorra did issue a stamp to celebrate the centenary of Scouting.  I'm becoming quite the philatelist here during this 'Round the World' malarkey but I have said before that I regard these little sticky bits of paper as pieces of art in their own right.

Fact No. 2:    Onto something cultural and highbrow.  As in many craggy regions of the world it didn't surprise me that a bit of folk dancing goes on.  However, I was on the hunt for more obscure arty-farty facts. I turned to an institution that is renowned for  portraying  participant countries at their aethetic best - the Eurovision Song Contest.  Here, again, the Andorrans are reluctant to join their international chums and have only entered the competition six time.  Here we have the band 'Anonymous' who achieved their  highest ever result, a heady twelfth place.  In recent years no entry has been forthcoming because of lack of money to support an entry.  Perhaps the people wish to spend  their hard earned cash elsewhere - on chewing gum perhaps?  Here we come to my final fact that I am sure will help you find your way into Andorran society with ease  if ever you should.   This is the country with the highest alleged per capita consumption as each person is estimated to masticate their way through two pounds of the stuff a year!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tickings Off

Photo by Christian Fischer
In Devon, Lyme disease is right there  amongst the other American imports like Maccy Ds and the Simpsons and I've met a couple of people who've been infected.  The deer ticks that carry this bacterial nasty, which initially causes a bull-eye like rash and/or flu-like symptoms but which can lead to further more serious complications if left undetected,  are prevalent in the woods around here.  This means that  a good thorough bodily search is necessary country walks.  Children and yes, pets, who grub around in the undergrowth, are particularly susceptible to having these creatures attach themselves to them.   Don't forget to check  between fingers and toes, armpits and the groin when looking for the pinhead sized invaders  These troublesome creatures often have a tendency to hide away and remain undetected  in cosy crevices! Once found with their heads buried in the skin  they need to be yanked out with tweezers to reduce infection risk, a routine well known in the Lovelygrey household.

Perhaps, in an attempt to start a zoological collection of gross woodland insects, Mr. Lovelygrey has been bringing home a new creature from his wander, the semi-transparent chappie pictured above.  Behold Claudius, here we have Lipoptena Cervi, or for the non Romans among you, the deer ked.  This little darling is a parasitic bloodsucker laying its egg in the fur of Bambi, his relatives and the odd cow or two. Fortunately humans are not treated as hosts for the baby keds but can suffer a bite which may lead to a hard reddened welt developing.  In extreme cases this can be troublesome and itchy for up to a year.

Anyway....back to ticks of a different kind, those on my 454 item to do list that I started less than a couple of months ago.  Despite being laid up poorly for the majority of this time, there's now only 400 things left.  Lots that I've achieved are really quite simple for example, items  253: getting my email working properly again,  96: Researching how I can blog abroad without being shafted by incurring extortionate data fees and 323: Replacing the screw in my sunglasses.  But 54 items in total completed actually represents a reasonable investment in time and many of those niggling things left undone for some time are no more!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Days Out in Devon: Plymouth Hoe

Yippee! My body's restorative processes move ever forward.  The mean green Fiesta Econetique is now out of the garage and four weeks after my operation, I'm allowed to drive again.  My inaugural journey to the hospital on Thursday was routine enough.  I drove myself there without incident and  an ultrasound confirmed that everything is moving in the right direction.  Craving a little more excitement, I cruised down to Plymouth yesterday to see my interneational jetsetting friend, Salty Dog in her home town.  You have to catch her  quick before she flits off to warmer climes or decides on a whim to catch the early ski season in the Arctic.

Although globetrotting always tempts me I'm a little lightweight at the moment so we settled on a wander around the Hoe where Salty Dog  'parked' Sirius, the first boat that she owned.  Ah! fond memories of adventurous sailing trips to Fowey and the Scillies and nights out with the girls to the clubs, pubs and restaurants on the harbour when we'd teeter back after a night out and continue partying.   I don't remember seeing this 1950's style ice cream van though.  A 99 would have been just the thing to help soak up any excessive alcohol intake.

Unfortunately I'm not up to full-scale fun and frolics at the moment so resisted a pint in the Dolphin Inn, the late Beryl Cook's favourite haunt, and headed off instead for a nice cuppa at the 'World Famous' Cap'n Jaspers, one of my favourite no nonsense eateries, a big shed where the only seating is benches outside.  My staple brew can be had here for the uber- reasonable price of 80p with 20p returned when you bring your mug back.

Yippee! My body's restorative processes move ever forward.  The mean green Fiesta Econetique is now out of the garage and four weeks after my operation, I'm allowed to drive again.  My inaugural journey to the hospital on Thursday was routine enough. &n spend on motorhomes, mortgage repayments and  jewellery making tools, or in the case of Salty Dog, boat parts and airfares to far off countries.  This necklace by Tatty Devine  caught my fancy.  I was taken by the clean lines of the acrylic birds - a material to put on my 'To do' list to play with in the future maybe?

Now Salty Dog loves to be captured on film looking at her glamorous best and, as a good loyal friend, I like to oblige.  She was so keen to be snapped in this in an exotic location on the Hoe that she ran there.  Here she is done  up to the nines in her woolly dress and thermal vest. A girl whose been used to a tropical lifestyle gets chillier than the rest of us back in Blighty!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Druggy Dreams

Head by Salvatore Vuono
Even though I occasionally stray off the path of virtue, risking  life and limb and vast swathes of personal wealth(!), I like to try and use copyright free photos to illustrate this blog when I haven't got a snap of my own that does the ticket. Both Microsoft Clipart and Wikipedia have been great resources but I'm giving my newly discovered source of today's pictures an extra special mention.  I thought that other bloggers out there who hadn't been there before might like to pay  a visit.  It has a brilliant collection of downloadable images, many of which are a little bit unusual. They can be used for all sorts of other purposes to, including commercial literature. Just add a link in your own work acknowledging the artist who produced the work and Bob's your uncle!

Back on track to my topic of dreams.  The ones that I remember used to be few and far between, relatively disturbing and normally would have attracted an 18 rating if committed to a digital format.  Below is a paraphrased conversation that I had the day after one of these.  To protect the innocent all names had been changed, apart from mine of course, even though I'm as pure as the driven snow too!

LG:  I had a really strange dream last night.
Ms. X:  Oooh!  Was it a dirty one?
LG: 'Fraid so and Mr Y was in it.
Ms X: Eugh! You didn't have sex with him!
LG: No but you did!

Happy Pills by Posterize
Before the medics found a physical cause for the lethargy that was the lead up to my current extended bout of sick leave, my GP reasonably thought that a recurrence of depression was the cause.  So, he changed my medication from the cheap as chips Citalopram to the more costly Venlaflaxine.  Now mood wise I've noticed no difference whatsoever.  However, my nocturnal landscape has changed.  It's better than multiple trips to 3D cinemas.  I now dream vividly, a consequence of taking this medication that is common and well known.  Some of the medical blogs advocate treating this as a side effect and prescribing further.  All very well if someone is having persistent nightmares but for me, my nightly shows are a fascinating source of  technicolor entertainment and worth every extra  penny of the surgery's drug bill.

So for example in the last three nights,  I've watched  a gripping tale of my efforts to reclaim a piece of jewellery that I'd donated to a charity sale when I found out it was valuable.  Louis and I starred in our own travel documentary in Amsterdam, a city that we haven't yet visited in reality.   After climbing loads of rickety  ladders that joined together dark cobbled streets we arrived at a luxury day spa and  avoided the exhorbitent admission charges by sneaking in a back way. The most  bizarre was an action adventure type of 'movie' where a squadron of Japanese fighter bombers invaded Exeter, left the majority of the population and buildings unharmed but invaded the prison where they committed mass genocide.

So...if there are any Jungian analysts out there among you who can provide serious accurate insight about what particular parts of my subconscious are being brought to the surface I'd be interested to know.  Anyone else is welcome to come up with their own imaginative ideas about what my dreams might reveal - the more outlandish the better!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Cardie Going Cheep!

A couple of years ago I became obsessed with cashmere because of its fluffiness and warmth.  However my terrible laundering skills didn't do justice to this luxury fabric. My mammoth clothing clearout the other day revealed a distinct lack of warm winter cardies that hadn't been shrunk to a size that a new born baby would struggle to squeeze into.  Although my taste  is much less hippy chic than hers, I was inspired by  a recent post by Vintage Vixen,  to revisit my student days and look again  at what's available on the secondhand market to meet the shortfall in my winter wardrobe.   So moving away from  fast fashion and a reliance on clothing that's disposed of within a short time frame,  I'm pleased to say that this beautifully crafted knit, courtesy of Ebay, will be winging its way to Lovelygrey Villas shortly.

This lovely 100% wool garment, which looks like it was made anywhere between the 1950s and the '80s,  originally came from Austria and is hand embroidered with an intricate garden scene on its front border and back replete with baby birds!   Because of the black background it'll go with many of the items that are already in my wardrobe.  I can see it jazzing up jeans and a plain T-shirt or, because I'm not in a job where business suits are standard fare, it could perk up the long and short skirts that I wear during my working day.  The only thing that's may be a bit iffy is the green cord tie but that can easily be replaced with a different fastening if needs be. I'll just have to wait to try it on to make a decision about whether tassels reflect the real me!

I'm really thrilled that, as is the case with the clothes that Mama Lovelygrey makes for me,  I'm one hundred percent certain that I'll never bump into someone wearing the same.  And what I'm paying for such exclusivity and quality isn't too much different than that charged for knitwear in the cheaper chains on the high street.