Friday, 24 September 2010

Where does the time go to...

Over 30 years ago I went off to the south of France to be an Au Pair. Although it is common these days for young people to do a gap year or travel, it wasn't as popular then. I travelled by train to the South of France - crossing Paris by bus from one main line station to another (a real challenge for my first time abroad) and finally arriving in Cannes nearly 24 hours later. Leaving my family and friends behind was both frightening and exciting. Jacki a work colleague and friend had arrived 2 weeks before me with no luggage, as it had been lost en-route. She had been washing out her one pair of knickers every night in the hope that they would be dry for the next morning.

Waiting for me at the station was an incredibly glamorous petite woman not much older than I was and she proudly showed off her new British Mini. In my ignorance at that time I didn’t realise what a big deal it was – a French woman having a British car – the French being so patriotic and always preferring to buy French products - was a fact I was unaware of at the time. A trait that I admire immensely in the French now.
Well suffice to say I only stayed for a couple of weeks as their beautiful home was up in the hills of Vallauris well known for its association with the artist Picasso (again a fact lost on me at the time) and much too far from my friend Jacki who was is the centre of Cannes. Added to that I spent all day on my own with only three aggressive Alsatians for company and a list of chores as long as your arm which included making English Chocolate cake and hovering using a machine that gave me an electric shock every time I switched it on. I had a lovely room at the top of a spiral staircase but was very unhappy being so isolated.

Luckily Jacki found me another job with the daughter of her employers and I moved down to where there was more life. I was installed in the basement of a large apartment block which was on the sea front. The room I had (bearing in mind the family lived in the penthouse) was about 12 x 8 with bars across the window, an iron bed, plastic wardrobe and a sink that only had a cold water tap. There was a loo across the corridor and I had two bolts on the door so although it was fairly basic it was mine and I was free to come and go as I pleased. My room was nicknamed ‘The Cell’ and soon became the meeting place for all the many friends I made, mainly other Au Pairs and ex-pats working on the beautiful boats.

Although I come from a family of good cooks my time in France gave me a new understanding of food and cooking - I think it was where my real love of cooking started.

This blog wasn’t going to be the story of my first trip to France - a place I try and visit as often as I can - but one about catching up with old friends; but once you start writing sometimes things just come out of the ends of your fingers as you hit the keys.

One of the many friends I made there was Irene – she was also an Au Pair and we met her at a French class. We shared many crazy and wonderful times together: and when we eventually moved back home to England we kept in touch. Ironically she lived on the Wirral not far from where I live now and she now lives in Surrey not far from where I was living then. Eventually we got a flat together in London and spent several years sharing even more crazy times.

Well it’s been over 20 years since I have seen Irene and last week we met up again. We lost touch after we had had our children and found each other again on Facebook. The years just melted away as we shared forgotten memories, reminiscing, laughing and reliving our sometimes misspent youth. The years disappeared and it was as if no time had passed.

Social media can get bad press but I have had so many positive things happen, finding old friends again and keeping in touch with friends and family around the world. Back then when I was an Au Pair I longed for the post man to arrive and bring me letters from back home. I had to book a telephone call at the local post office once a month to speak to my parents and waited weeks for my photos to be printed. Now we live in the instant messaging world and I love it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Back to Normal

Well I feel like we’re nearly back to normal again. After the wonderful party and having all the family to stay, Les and I have had a busy couple of weeks with paying guests. But this week we took a couple of days off to regroup and catch up with a few jobs. Although a lay in has also been on the cards we have been just as busy but doing different things.

I equally love and dislike this time of year – the summer is nearly over – apart from a few late Indian summer days if we are lucky. The anticipation and wonder that is Autumn – with the fantastic pallet of colours that represent this beautiful time of year is always countered with the knowledge that the trees are about to shed their golden, copper and red tresses and that winter will too soon be upon us; and Les will be forever sweeping up leaves in the garden.

There is always lots to do in the garden and the kitchen – borders, hedges and shrubs to cut back and bulbs etc to plant to make sure we have some spring colour. The plums have all been picked 25lbs this year which is a surprise because so many people have had a bad crop, after last year’s bounty. I’ve made 14lbs of Plum Jam and frozen the rest for pies and crumbles throughout the winter. The apples have also been great this year and I have been busy freezing some and making apple jelly, a real favourite of mine.
The sewing machine has also had an outing this week and I have made some new aprons. I had forgotten how much I enjoy sewing. My sister is the real seamstress in our family and because she is always making such lovely pieces I forget that I am quite capable of turning up the odd thing too. I get through a lot of aprons as I seem to be in a ‘pinny’ all day sometimes (as those of you who have stayed with us will know – there are many a photo of Les and I at the front door in our pinny’s).
We managed a day out on Tuesday and took the dogs for a lovely walk along the costal path, the sun came out and it felt like Summer still. We took a leisurely drive back over the hills, only touching B roads or small lanes, stopping to walk the dogs again over the Denbigh Moors.
I was back to Erddig Hall today after the summer break, volunteering in the education department (see blog dated 18th July 2010 ) and had a lovely time with very sweet 5 and 6 year olds – what a joy they are – but so lovely that they are not mine! Just waiting for the next lot of guests to arrive as I type this – so now really back to normal.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Les's Birthday Bash

Well the baking, icing, shopping, organising and hair pulling out was finally worth it. We had a fantastic weekend with family and friends. Les's birthday bash went off extremely well - despite the weather. As I type this the sun is shinning and the temperature is 21 degrees - but Sunday morning was a different matter. We awoke to pouring rain and 30 mile an hour winds and the gazebos, chairs and tables that we had erected the day before were just about being held down by extra ropes and pegs.

We had set up the bar in the Wooden Gazebo in the garden complimented by a barrel of real ale from the Blue Bell Pub in Halkyn. By late morning we abandoned the idea of having a lovely summer garden party on the lawn and hastily rearranged the house to accommodated over 50 guests and a 5 piece Trad Jazz Band. We also moved the bar (apart from the barrel) into the hall and just prayed that everyone would fit.

Mad Ed's Hot 5 started playing at around 2pm for an hour and then we quickly laid out the food and spent the next couple of hours eating and drinking and catching up with friends and family. Many of which had travelled a long way to celebrate with us (the furthest being Spain and the shortest the next door neighbours). By this time the weather had cleared up sufficiently for a few brave people to eat outside (obviously fortified by the medicinal effect of alcohol) whilst most of us found a perch somewhere in doors.

Mad Ed returned with his group at around 6pm and played for another couple of hours, there was more drink, talking, singing and even a bit of dancing. Happy Birthday was sung enthusiastically by all with an inpromtu speach by the birthday boy. Later on those that were still partying enjoyed curry or chilli before heading off home or to local B&B's, hotels and campsites.
Monday was a fabulous day the sun shone and not a puff of wind. As the whole family had stayed for the weekend we spent the day in the garden and had lunch alfresco. One of my favorite films is A Good Year with Russell Crowe - if I had to choose a different life it would be the female lead in the film (Fanny Chenal) - at the end of the film she is preparing lunch outside in the sun - enjoying good food, wine and being with each other.

Well on Monday I had my French moment with all my family sitting around enjoying a relaxing lunch in the sunshine - the ages ranged from 10 months to 82 years. My Dad said ' A day for memories' and it really was.