The good reviewers at Amazon have been having a field day. Read and enjoy.
Last week my daughter had an interview in Le Mans. She drives but hasn’t had much motorway experience and since a five hour motorway drive probably isn’t the best preparation for an interview I offered to drive her. Before my halo starts to dazzle all and sundry, I fancied spending a night in Tours, which I’d only ever driven through hurrying to or from Calais, and visiting one or two of the Loire châteaux.
The old part of Tours is very pretty and deserves a much longer visit. I had no idea there was such a thing as an official list of Les Arbres Remarquable de France, but there is, and one of them is a magnificent cedar in the garden of the Musée des Beaux Arts. The cathedral alone justifies a visit to Tours, it’s a beautiful gothic structure with a stunning facade and beautiful stained glass windows. How so much 13th century glass survived the revolution and various wars, heaven only knows, but what really took my breath away was the Rose window described somewhat snottily as ‘dating from 200 years later than the windows in the sanctury.” OK, so it’s a mere 600 years old but with the setting sun coming through it, it was fabulous.
We also lost our hearts to this tomb for the children of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne:The next day was spent visiting Châteaux des Amboise and Chenonceau – both gorgeous and both crowded, especially Chenonceau which we went to in the afternoon.
I appreciate that these châteaux cost a fortune to maintain and they need lots of visitors and their entrance fees to keep them going, but, at the risk of sounding like Mrs Grumpy I’ve got to ask, Why do so many of the visitors bring young children with them? I’ve got children, they were young once, and we went to all sorts of places. Places I thought all of us would enjoy; the Natural History and Science museums, animal parks and gardens, ruins and woods, I don’t think any of them were dragged around to look at houses, picture galleries or historical interiors until they were at least eight or nine because they’d have been profoundly uninterested. And an uninterested child is usually a pain in the neck – to their parents and to a lot of the people around them.
At Chenonceau there were children in pushchairs who were being carried up to the first and second floors, while their only slightly older brothers and sisters plodded behind. They weren’t enjoying themselves, their parents looked at the end of their tethers, it was stinking hot and more than one fractious quarrel between small siblings broke out. You couldn’t help thinking that their parents would have had a much nicer time if they’d taken it in turns to entertain the children in the child-friendly grounds while the other had a look around on their own.
Fair enough, sometimes children do have to tag along with their parents; what got this Mrs Grumpy really hot under her collar were the photographers. Every viewpoint has a crowd standing there and fiddling with a camera with an extremelylong lens for ages, you get the feeling that some people have lost the ability to see anything with their eyes, they can only view through a camera. In the cathedral in Tours there were people walking in and up the aisle with their cameras pressed to their faces, clicking away, never stopping to gaze, to admire, to wonder, to be moved; just press, click, frame the next shot.
Chenonceau is famous for the gallery that straddles the river Cher –
and on the far side it opens onto a lovely shady walk along the river. For the first fifty metres the path was crowded with tourists snapping away, after that there was literally no-one. No-one who felt like seeing the Château from a distance, no-one who thought the woods were part of the experience of the visit, no-one who was simply enjoying the pleasure of walking by a river on a beautiful day. All they wanted was to take their photos; depressingly you also know that no matter how long the lens was, most of them probably weren’t that good anyway.
The final straw was coming down a narrow stone staircase from the second floor which was only just wide enough to allow two streams of people going in both directions. A man had stopped on the second step, blocking the way completely, and was focusing his camera on the very ordinary stone ceiling. I snarled to my daughter, not very sotto voce, ‘Why doesn’t he buy an effing postcard?’ He must have been or understood English for the camera disappeared immediately.
Result! But not the best one.
My daughter got the job.
My former school is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. There was a cocktail party ten years ago for its fortieth, which I didn’t go to, and a ball for its something or other. I didn’t go to that either. The only times I’ve been back there since I left (a long time ago) was for a reunion which I was dragged to by one of my friends where I didn’t recognise anyone – literally, I’d expunged my schooldays so successfully from my memory that names didn’t ring a bell let alone faces – and when I visited the school as a putative parent. I got a lot of enjoyment from the amount of fawning over dished out to an Old Girl with three daughters, especially as I’d been distinctly a lower form of pond life in a big pool when I was a school girl.
I wasn’t a success at school. Not all of that was my fault; I was hopelessly ill-equipped to go to boarding school aged 11. I’d been educated at home by a governess – my father didn’t see why girls needed to go to school, I’m the youngest and the only girl in the family so I had a vocabulary of someone much older because I spent so much time with adults, we lived on the edge of a village so I was alone a lot of the time, I didn’t even have someone to share my lessons until I was nine and I didn’t belong to the brownies or the Pony Club so basically I had no idea of what girls en masse were like and no social skills for behaving within groups. And as if I didn’t stand out enough from the crowd already I was also 5 foot 4 inches tall aged just 11, 5 foot 9 1/2 at 13 (luckily I only grew another half inch after that).
If I’d been good at sports I suppose I might have redeemed myself and become one of the marginally popular ones, but I was the one whom in the inter-group netball match didn’t get on the team list at all. There were 7 players, three reserves and a substitute. There were 12 in our group…
It wasn’t all bad, I wasn’t bullied, generally just ignored and considered a bit “odd”. I made a couple of very good friends, both are still close friends, and we spent wonderful long introspective hours discussing ourselves and what we might become or sneaking illegally into the music rooms to play Leonard Cohen and analyse the meaning behind his lyrics. All the same I got out of there as soon as I could and went to a day school in London to do A levels, feeling very content indeed to put boarding school days behind me.
Then the invitation for the 50th turns up. It’s for a sleepover. A sleepover, I kid you not. You get to relive your school days with a night in a dormitory, you can ask to be put in with certain girls like they used to when I was there and we’ve been promised that there’ll even be the cocoa trolley for a hot drink before lights out (admittedly at 11pm rather than 8.30 as we used to have it).
Amazingly enough, quite a few old girls have already signed up for this form of torture. What if no-one wanted you in their dormy and you had to settle for the ignominious shame of a single study bedroom (so desirable at one time)? Or that you found you were the last one in and had been allocated the top bunk in the draughty place by the door which you weren’t even sure you could climb up to any longer? And when I’m in my last hours I can’t imagine I’ll be thinking, ‘If only I could have one more cup of that cocoa from the trolley, it was really nice that they made sure it wasn’t too strong with lots of water and that thick skin was so delicious.’ Then, in the morning there’s going to be a rounders match…
At the beginning of this year I made a resolution to push myself and do things I wouldn’t normally but some things are just too much. Sorry ladies, this is one invitation I find all too easy to refuse.
It’s just over a month since my daughter appeared at breakfast with a scruffy black kitten and told my OH that she’d found him another birthday present. ‘Oh, no you haven’t…’ We’ve been looking hard for a new home for Kevin and apart from an offer from Lucy at Literary Relish to post him to Manchester we’ve been met by a variety of ingenious excuses from English friends as to why they couldn’t give houseroom to a small kitten, one frank ‘We don’t do cats,’ and an appalled shudder from a French woman who was looking for a kitten at the very idea of having a black one. So we took the decision today and booked him into the vet…
… for his vaccinations and microchip. We’re now officially a three cat family. The dogs are not pleased at being outnumbered and I doubt the ginkgo tree is going to survive much more of this treatment:
He’s up and down it about seven times a day and every day it has fewer and fewer branches and fewer and fewer leaves. Bankie will be pleased though, having initially completely traumatised by this small intruder he suddenly realised that for the first time since we found him when he was four weeks old he’s got a feline friend to play with.
I, however, cannot believe that we’ve ended up with a cat called Kevin. The name was a joke, we all thought we wouldn’t have a problem finding such an attractive fellow a home and anyway all animals in our household seem to gather nicknames like frogs catch flies. All except Kevin that is, occasionally he’s called Kev, but that’s it. He’s distinctly lacking in table manners too,
Bankie’s been known to sample water from a glass but he dips one paw in and sucks it and doesn’t try to actually get in the glass. There’s also this:Kevin, take note. We’ve been soft touches so far but there are some things up with which we will not put. Sharing our evening tipple with the cat is one of them.
I grew up with two family stories about the Olympics.
The first and most familiar was one recounted often by my father. He was a steward at the 1948 games in London, the ones now rechristened The Austerity Olympics by the press though I never heard my father refer to them like that.
Just as the runner bearing the torch was about to enter the stadium the flame blew out. The 1948 flame in the Olympic beacon didn’t therefore come from some Greek ceremony in Delphi as they’d like to have you believe but from a torch relit by a cigarette lighter belonging to an Italian lavatory attendant.
My father was fond of a good story and had been known to “improve them”. Also like many natural raconteur he wasn’t above borrowing stories off other people so even as a child I knew that possibly not all the facts in this story were entirely accurate. I heard it countless times, like most raconteur my father believed that good stories bear repeating, and the details never varied. I do wonder why my father didn’t use his own cigarette lighter, he was pretty flash in those days and I bet he had a fancy gold model. Maybe it wouldn’t work in the wind and a more lowly Zippo was needed to do the trick. It’s one of those cases where it’s probably more fun not to know the exact truth.
I also grew up knowing we had an Olympic athlete in the family. My great-uncle Ralph, whom I can just remember as he died when I was three, won a silver medal for diving. My grandparents had three full size Olympic posters for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in their house, one publicising the games:
and two others, which as a child I liked much better of a diver, which I presumed was Uncle Ralph, and a muscular gymnast on the rings. To my lasting regret all the posters were left on the wall after my grandmother died and the house was sold.
Yesterday in an idle moment I decided to look Uncle Ralph up. I couldn’t find any mention of him on the 1912 Olympics website, googled his name and eventually came up with Frank Errington who competed in the 1906 London Olympics and reached the semi finals. There’s no doubt that was Uncle Ralph, he was actually called Francis Ralph but was always called Ralph because his father was Francis, Frank for short. So why did he compete under a name he wasn’t familiarly known by? And why was my grandparent’s house plastered with posters of the Stockholm Olympics when it was London that Ralph competed in? And how did fifth place in the semi finals get transmuted into a silver medal? I’ll never know, everyone who might have had an answer is long dead.
It’s still quite something to have had a relative who competed in an Olympics, no matter how far they got, but it does make me wonder that if our descendants ever tell any stories about me or the OH just how much of it will be true.