Tuesday, October 26, 2010

En Vacances en Automne

Our Autumn city-break looms.
This year I am a wee bit less enthusiastic about going away as our destination is Paris, currently gripped by protests and strikes. Unfortunately, the day we travel has been declared an industrial day of action, so there is the prospect of arriving (DV) in the centre of Paris and being unable to get the metro to our outlying hotel. We chose one well out of the centre for financial reasons: they're so much cheaper than hotels in the city-centre. We also chose one from an international chain as (a) they're one of the only places you can get a reasonably priced family room (the two youngest still being fairly happy to share accommodation with us - we couldn't afford it otherwise) and (b) the buffet breakfast facilities mean that you can stoke up for the day ahead on endless croissants, ham, cheese, jam, cereal, yoghurt and coffee. I've looked at maps and have worked out that it's about 6km from the Gare du Nord to our hotel - not ridiculously far, but far enough to walk at the end of a day of travel, and probably in the dark. There exists also the possibility of a taxi, though I imagine that if the metro is on strike, or running limited services, the taxi queues will be ridiculous.

I don't like having to plan with worst-case scenarios in mind, but this time I just have to.
What if the protests turn to riots (police, tear-gas etc.)? Go in opposite direction immediately.
What if the tourist attractions are shut tight? (I know the Eiffel Tower was last week)
Plan stuff that just needs to be walked through and looked at (Champs Elysees, Montmartre, plenty of churches...).
We will make the most of it, whatever the situation is, and if the worst comes to the worst, we have the trusty credit-card to bail us out.

It's funny the reaction I seem to get when people ask what I'm doing half-term and I reply 'Oh I'm going abroad (to Milan, Barcelona, Rome wherever..)'. I get the strangest 'old-fashioned' looks that rather convey the impression that they think 'It's alright for her!' or 'Hmmmph!'
This really p*sses me off!
All our planning is done on a shoestring, on the internet hunting for cheap fares and accommodation, cashing in the Tesco Clubcard vouchers for Airmiles, buying railcards, saving month by month for our trips throughout the year.

You see, it's a question of priorities: Some folk believe that having a pristine home, furniture and stuff is important to family life. Some folk (like us) prefer to spend carefully set-aside money on broadening their children's minds and horizons which, unfortunately cannot be done by plonking them on a DFS special in front of a 42" plasma travelogue, or dragging them around the local attractions (again).
Daughter #3 and the Bright-Eyed Boy are fairly well-seasoned little travellers by now. The first trip to Rome (about 5 years ago) was done with (our) fingers crossed, but they were both so good, trotting around with their little back-packs on a ne'er uttering a single word of complaint. They seem to love the continental lifestyle and atmosphere as much as we do, and it's a real pleasure and privilege to be able to take them along.

However there seems to be an undercurrent of envious Schadenfreude when I say we're off to Paris - a general smirking that things might not run smoothly and maybe we shouldn't bother going.

Nonsense! Say I: We will not be put off! We shall prepare for the worst, and expect the BEST - as always.

And when we get back, I'll show you our photos...and you can show us yours.....he he he!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thank Goodness It's Monday!

Although I am generally a fairly upbeat person, the sheer grind of day to day living occasionally gets to me, and it generally gets to me over the weekend. When it gets to Friday evening, I feel a tangible sense of relief that Saturday and Sunday lie ahead - we open a bottle of wine, dine late, watch a film and relax. Saturday morning, croissants and black coffee over the paper and a general sense of well-being: I read the recipes in the magazine and vaguely make plans to cook something tasty or go into town and browse the bookshops.....but soon thereafter the good mood begins to slip a bit. I think the problem is that there is so much routine maintenance to do: the Bright-Eyed Boy needs transporting to and from his football practice, Daughter #3 tends to go rowing and returns home boyfriend in tow to take root on the front-room sofa for the rest of the day, so no-one can really access the house-computer because they are watching some teen-drama reruns on iPlayer. Daughter #2 often texts to try and lure me into town with her so she has some company, and sometimes I capitulate.
There are generally a couple of massive washes to do - all the school uniform, sports kit and the Husband's work clothes find their way into the laundry basket overnight and require immediate attention if they are to be returned clean to their owners for the following week. A deal of time is taken in putting it in, and extracting it from, the machine, hanging it up, then taking it to the tumble dryer later on, and finally folding it to avoid creasing. Not to mention the redistribution and putting away.
The Dog requires walking too.
Saturday lunchtime, and if I haven't managed to get out, my good mood has curdled somewhat and I don't feel inclined to cook anymore..
The B-E-B returns home hungry and generally a bit cranky ('hangry' = hungry + angry) if he hasn't been picked to play in the team match the following day, turns on the telly and stations himself in front of either sport or endless repeats of the bloody Simpsons.
The Husband either goes to the gym or opens up his laptop to tackle the workload that threatens to swamp him or turn him mad. The day slides into evening and I get uneasy that I haven't done anything worthwhile. I can't really do any of my academic work without isolating myself at the bedroom workstation that I set up last year - and who wants to sit up in their bedroom on a Saturday afternoon? I can't read anywhere - I need silence to prevent getting distracted during the tricky bits and the constant hum of the telly, and music of different genres coming from the front room, plus the constant trotting up and down stairs that goes on is not conducive to study in the least!
Tea usually consists of pizza, and after a couple of accompanying glasses of wine, I am slumped, fretting at where the day has gone.
Sunday morning: generally up early for either football, rowing or Mass - if I can persuade anyone to go (an increasingly difficult task nowadays, I'm afraid). If the weather is good I will make the effort to walk into town for a coffee when the shops open at eleven, returning home shortly after lunchtime.
Thereafter, there is a noticable decline in the household mood: the Husband and I set about the tasks that need performing before Monday morning; shopping for packed lunch ingredients, ironing (taken in turns), preparing dinner for as many people as are present, persuading the children to do their homework....and before long evening has fallen and we're sitting down to Sunday dinner, usually consisting of a large home-made pasta bake or a roast dinner if it's winter time. I do manage to stir myself to do that. The puddings are a major and much-treasured feature - the Husband actually enjoys trying out pudding recipes and has had a number of triumphs in this department (especially in the bread-and-butter pudding department - his chocolate and rum version is awesome!). I encourage this. It's frankly one of the best bits of the week.
After dinner, a pause while we find out what homework is still outstanding, hard-boil eggs for pack-ups, transport Daughter #3's boyfriend home, lay out school uniforms and pack schoolbags for the following day. By nine o'clock it's all done, but so is the weekend! All done and gone!
And then comes Monday, the work and school week lies before us and we look longingly towards Friday night and its promise of scant rest and respite.
But secretly, I love it when peace and quiet returns to the house. The Dog gets an early walk, then I go over to the shop and buy a single pain au raisin, put on a pot of espresso and turn on Radio 4. I review my emails, a couple of blogs and the news headlines then exchanging the radio for a CD of subdued classical music, I settle down to read or write for the rest of the day, keeping an eye on the clock until its time for the wanderers to return.
I am put in mind the scrap of a poem by the poet Sappho, written about 600BC where she addresses the evening star ('Hesperus') who brings home all the things that dawn has scattered 'the sheep, the goat, the child to its mother'. Thank God it does!