Trying to be ‘Normal’

Trying to be ‘normal’

Yesterday, Bea brought home a friend she wanted us to meet. I knew this was a fairly big deal for her, and so I was very keen that we shouldn’t embarrass her. Usually I consider that I have earned the right to be embarrassing to my children due to suffering through their teenage years when their clothes and hair and general attitudes were often not what I had hoped for when they were 5—but not this time. This time I was keen to be ‘normal’.

Now, I would say that housework is not my forte. Basically, I hate doing it, and although my kitchen is hygienic, you might find dog hairs on the floor and dust on the window sills, so my first task of the day was to tidy the house and wave a duster around a bit. Unfortunately, Husband (always to be relied upon in these situations) had helpfully decided that this was the day he was going to empty the loft of important papers from 20 years ago, and put them into bags ready to be recycled. The whole of his office resembled a rubbish tip. We had an argument (always a good start when guests are due).

I then began to wipe surfaces in the kitchen, when I noticed an unpleasant smell wafting under the utility room door. We have one of the outside cats in there, in a cage, because she has pulled the ligaments in her back legs (fell out of a tree) and the vet said she mustn’t climb or jump, and I have no idea how you stop a cat jumping, so I have put her into the old dog crate, which is big enough for her to walk around in, but has no opportunity for jumping. She is very cross, but the ligaments are healing, so all is good. Except yesterday, she had dirtied her bedding.

I attempt to open cage door and remove dirty bedding without cross cat escaping, and am about to shove dirty bedding into washing machine, when I hear a shout from the garden. Husband is yelling that the cockerels have been fighting.

I have several cockerels, hatched last year. Until now, they have lived fairly peacefully alongside each other. Cockerels will sometimes live for several years in the same flock without incident, provided they have sufficient space and females. However, sometimes you hatch an aggressive bunch, and then you can only keep one. I hurried into the garden.

One of the cockerels was clearly suffering, having been attacked by one of the bigger ones (his brother actually—chickens are pretty nasty creatures). The bird was obviously dying, and in pain, so I quickly killed him. When chickens are dead, the nerves in their bodies continue to function, making them twitch, so it can be hard to know they are completely dead. I didn’t want it to suffer, so to be sure I chopped off the head. (A chicken with no head is definitely dead, though bizarrely they can still run around!)

Looked at time: daughter due at house with friend at any moment. The cockerel had been a big bird, and it seemed wrong to simply throw him away (waste of a life) but there was no time to do anything with him. So, I tied up his legs, and hung him in garage, to deal with him later. Sent Bea a message: “If you give friend a tour of the house, don’t go in garage because there’s a dead chicken hanging from the ceiling!”

Bea replied: “What? You are meant to be trying to be normal! Dead chicken hanging in garage is not normal!”

I felt she had a point.

The rest of the visit went okay, and we liked her friend immensely. I have no idea what the friend thought of us, but hopefully we appeared to be relatively normal.

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Forget Brexit, This is Scary!

I am holding my breath and waiting to see what is going to happen next. . . Husband has retired! Well, to be fair, he has retired from the partnership of his firm (after about 95 years) and is now doing slightly different work. But it does mean that his hours will be less, more like those that most other people work. For the last 95 years, our entire married life, he has been working from about 7am each day until late in the evening, and his phone has been permanently attached to his hand during any time-off, in case the financial world should collapse without him. Well folks, forget Brexit and global warming and anything else that might be giving you nightmares: Husband is no longer holding the fort!

So, you might be asking, what are the implications of this at home? How was the first week of having a not-busy-every-second-of-the-day Husband at home? Let’s put it this way, I know how it would feel to be married to a small tornado.

As you know, my ‘job’ is writing. After sorting the ducks and chickens and cats and dog, I aim to be at my desk by about 9am every day, and start writing. This really does not work too well when within five minutes someone is offering tea, and then five minutes later asking if you need any shopping, and then five minutes later suggesting that the lounge needs repainting. My desk was in a corner of our bedroom. It feels unreasonable to lock a person out of their bedroom. My desk is now in the ‘guestroom’ and if we have any visitors they will have to share our bedroom. It seemed easier.

One thing is for sure, it’s not going to be boring. His extra time began straight after our holiday. By the end of the first evening, before we had even moved the suitcases to the bedroom, let alone unpacked them, he was discussing where we might go next year, and which would be good dates. The family all refused to discuss possible dates, saying that 12 months was too soon to commit. By the end of the second day, he had suggested a few months living in the Italian Alps. The third day he suggested we replace our rather decrepit Fiesta. I then banned him from any more big decisions for 48 hours. The following day he suggested a month in the US. Then spending February in New Zealand. Then adding turrets to the front of the house. (Okay, I made-up the last one, but you get the idea.)

There is of course, a potential book in this situation. I have started making notes. Possible titles are:

Caution: Man Retired
Enjoying Being Retired
Remembering Why You Married Him: The story of a retirement
How to Get Away with Murder
How to Hide a Dead Body
Serving a Life-Sentence: A Wife’s Story

I will let you know which one I decide on.

I hope your day goes well, and you don’t have any unwelcome interruptions. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Antibes, Family Holiday Diary 2019

Monday August 19th

Today we left Genoa, which was not easy, as the SatNav was still trying to take us via the bridge that collapsed last year, and Bea told us that the map on her phone looked like a cat had been sick on it, and it was impossible to identify individual roads. But we escaped eventually.

We arrived at the AC Ambassador Hotel in Juans-les-Pins, France. The hotel has a carpark, with a very narrow ramp down, which was probably the most stressful part of the whole journey. We checked in, and had a quick look around the hotel. The lobby and public areas are very nice, with several alcoves for chatting, and a bar and restaurant, a gym and pool, plus a bigger pool outside. Our rooms were okay—probably less nice than our previous hotels, but everything worked, and we were given plenty of towels, and each room had a balcony and air-con that worked (which will really matter here, as it’s hot!)

We walked to the beach. Juans-les-Pins is on a narrow spit of land, with Antibes the old town on the other side. It feels like being on an island. The beach area in Juans-les-Pins is very touristy, with beach areas full of hot tanned bodies lying side-by-side on loungers. The town is full of young people, wandering and drinking cocktails, and everything is bright and loud. The old part of town, across the spit of land, is very different. The old town is full of cobbled streets and painted houses with shutters and olive trees.

We ate in La Tours Antique (eating anywhere on Sundays and Mondays in France takes some effort, as many places are closed). Our table was outside, and we sat looking at ancient houses and potted plants while we sipped wine and ate delicious food. We were given tiny glasses of cold soup and freshly baked bread, followed by fish with a pistachio crust and cubes of fried potato. But it was quite expensive, and the menu was fairly limited (and they did not have tiramisu!)

Later, we sat in the hotel bar, playing cards and waiting a very long time while the bar staff tried to work out to make the cocktails we had ordered. (Eventually, they came and asked us for the recipe.) There is a piano, so Jay played it and some other guests stopped and sang, which is always fun.


Tuesday August 20th


Breakfast was just about perfect for me. There were lots of fruit tarts, and pastries, and fruit and pancakes, and a very good coffee machine.

We all went swimming. I pretty much hate swimming, but occasionally I pretend to be sociable and join the rest of the family. It was awful—very wet. After compulsory swim, I looked for a spare sun lounger. The hotel has a sign saying that after 15 minutes, any unoccupied seats will have their towels removed. However, there was one lady who had several unoccupied seats, reserved with towels, for over an hour. I therefore went over, and removed one of the towels. The lady flew from her seat, snatched the towel from my hand, and screamed death threats at me. (It was all in French, so am improvising a little). She was small enough to pick up and throw into pool, but my family get cross when I do things like that, so instead I went to ask the towel-distributing man if he had any more chairs. Towel-man then went and tackled angry seat-hoarding woman. There then followed a long, loud argument in French, with lots of fist-shaking and hand waving. I was given a seat by towel-man, who dumped the reserving towels in a heap on the floor. I took lounger, returned to family, and read for an hour.

After an hour, I was too hot and sticky, so decided to go inside. Chair-hoarding woman was still alone. I figured that her family might, at some point, join her, and I no longer needed the chair, so I carried it back to her and said (in bad French) that I no longer needed it. She thanked me very prettily, as if the preceding argument had never occurred. Perhaps this is normal behaviour in France.

We bought lunch in a patisserie. I had the most perfect strawberry tarte. We ate in the hotel garden (it’s not much of a garden, just a few chairs and some young olive trees on a patio).

We walked to the old town of Antibes, wandering along narrow cobbled streets. We saw a painted church, and the Picasso museum, and a big town square with a bandstand.

We bought drinks in the empty market place at Le Championnet. This was a mistake, as the prices were inflated, and the man dumped ice in the glasses with his dirty fingers.

We ate dinner in Mamma Mia in Juans-les-Pins. It is next to a busy road, but we could see the sea beyond it, and the restaurant was friendly and cheap. I drank wine again by mistake (there is something about a cold glass of wine on a hot summer’s evening that is hard to resist, even when all your clothes are too tight and you’re trying to lose weight).

Thank you for reading. Have a nice day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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La Thuile to Genova…Family Holiday 2019 continued

Thursday August 15th

Our last day in La Thuile, and we wanted to see more of the mountains—discussed a plan over breakfast while waiting for coffee to arrive. There is plenty of time to make several plans while waiting for coffee to arrive.

I walked into town and bought a fridge magnet while family went on scary ski-lift up the mountain we can see from our balcony. I sat in the sunshine and waited for them. We then went into town to buy a picnic. I used my best Italian to ask baker for a small round loaf of soft bread. He gave me a crunchy stick-loaf, but I couldn’t face trying to explain what I wanted, so thanked him and paid.

We drove to a lake. Parking was a challenge, so we abandoned car with all the other cars, parked partly on the side of the road and partly hanging off the side of the mountain. We found the footpath, and saw lots of walkers wearing hiking gear—but I think I was more comfortable in my cardigan.

We walked, for about an hour, up the mountain. The path was wide and well-used, and there were many glimpses of the glacier on the adjacent mountain. We were surrounded by trees (possibly spruce) and passed tiny brooks racing down the hillside. Jay said his ankle hurt, so we abandoned him in a bar (he fared better than the car).

Eventually, we arrived at a mountain lake. It was very pretty, but the best view was across to the glacier on the other mountain. We sat for a while next to the lake. It is really high—2 km above sea level, and we had fuzzy ears. Husband decided he wanted to paddle—so did several dogs, but no other human thought that going into the icy water was a good idea, so we sat and watched him and wondered if he would fall over (he didn’t, which is good, isn’t it?)

We walked back down the mountain, briefly joined abandoned son in the bar, then found abandoned car and drove back to the hotel.

The males went swimming, Bea and I walked to the chocolate shop in town. We had passed it yesterday, and it offered hot chocolates and delicious pastries and seats at little round tables with gorgeous views. Today, it was stuffed full with tourists and motorbike people and harassed-looking staff, and rather resembled a station during rush-hour than somewhere you would choose to be. We queued for several hours and bought tiny paper cups of delicious ice-cream, then walked down the road to an empty bench and ate it looking at the view. Then we walked back to the hotel and had drinks on our balcony in the sunshine.

We had dinner at La Maison again. I had the thick vegetable soup followed by tiramisu, and wondered if I would ever again eat anything as nice. Jay somehow managed to eat three different main-courses, and was then reprimanded by Emm, who told him that it was excessive and showed a severe lack of parental guidance in the past. I drank wine and ignored them. We leave La Thuile tomorrow, I really hope we will visit again one day, it is the most beautiful town in the world (I think).


Friday August 16th

Our last breakfast at Montana Lodge Hotel. Jay had recovered from excessive eating of yesterday and managed to eat a whole butcher’s shop worth of meat. Vegetarians remained silent. Bea ate pancakes, and stole the strawberries from the garnish. The waiters still failed to fill cups with coffee, though did fill saucers, so perhaps they are trying and failing. Actually, to be fair, the hotel breakfast is very good, with an excellent variety of freshly cooked food, and if the waiters were not inept and unfriendly, it would be perfect. I would happily stay here again.

Staying somewhere with such high altitude has been interesting. When I opened my hair conditioner, it all oozed out, in one long sausage, all over me and the shower until I managed to shut the slippery lid. Although it looks as if it’s at the bottom of the mountain, La Thuile is actually higher than Ben Nevis.

We checked out, and drove to Genova, shedding layers of clothes as we drove south. The journey into the city was a challenge, as the SatNav tried to take us over the bridge which collapsed a year ago, and we had to use Google to find an alternative route. There were lots of massive bridges, hanging onto the side of the mountain and sweeping down to the city. The disaster last year must have been terrible.

We checked into Melia Hotel, which we booked through Citalia. They had messed up our booking (and blamed Citalia for not informing them, which I found irritating—why do people never simply apologise any more?) Husband, of course, had all the information, clearly itemised with names and dates, so they had no choice but to move us to better rooms, but it was a hassle, especially for the boys, who had to move rooms after a day. Our room was very nice, with a big balcony/roof garden.

We walked into the city centre, looking at the interesting buildings. We stopped in Ferrari Square and had an espresso, watching the tourists and the massive fountain and the pretty architecture. Italy does squares really well. The weather is warm, but not excessively so, and I felt pleasantly fuzzily tired.

We went to an indoor market, and I sat and rested while the family wandered around. It was very bright and filled with the rudely bright colours of peaches and oranges and blood-red apples under neon lights, while trolleys rattled past and flies tickled; all underpinned by the metallic tang of death—great heads of swordfish, pink-fleshed skinned rabbits, fat-encased hams hanging overhead. I sat, absorbing it all and waiting.

Family returned and we walked to Il Genovisi, an Italian restaurant, for dinner. It was very nice, with lots of traditional Italian dishes and some rather lovely wine.

I hope you have a good day too. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Geneva, Family Holiday Diary 2019

Saturday 10th August

We are all together for our family holiday, despite the best efforts of both British Rail who ground to a halt due to a power-cut, and the British weather which soaked everyone returning from work in London the evening before we flew. The taxi arrived at 5:45, we were all ready (something of a miracle with my family) and off we set for Heathrow.

Arrived at Heathrow and checked in. Breakfast in fancy restaurant (family enjoy spending Husband’s money) then went to gate. Flight delayed because they couldn’t find the pilot (seriously, this is what they told us—unexpectedly honest of them). Buses appeared and we worried a bus-replacement service was being offered, but they took us to a plane, so all was going well.

Arrived in Geneve about 2pm. So did our baggage, despite the best efforts of Jay who had cleverly left his luggage labels from a previous holiday attached to his bag. We found a taxi big enough to carry five people plus bags and went to Intercontinental Hotel. Paid taxi a year’s salary, plus money for carrying our bags (this is a thing, apparently). Checked into rooms.

Our room is wonderful, with a view across Geneva towards the river. It also has a Nespresso machine, and I am rather partial to Nespresso machines (whilst never wanting to own one, because then it won’t be a treat).

We were given free bus passes at the hotel, which I believe is available at all hotels, and covers travel around most of the city. We caught the number 5 bus, and went to the city. We saw a big old clock, walked next to a river, and saw the lake, which is lovely.

In the lake is a sort of fountain, which is not particularly pretty but is very big and is a feature of Geneva (in case, like me, you didn’t know—though I am told by my family that actually, everyone in the world apart from me, knows this). Anyway, the fountain/jet was originally something to do with hydro power in a clock-making factory, but the high pressure needed to be released, so once every day, they would send a jet of water into the air. This gradually became a tourist attraction, and then a feature of Geneva, so now it’s there permanently. Except, sometimes, it isn’t.

We found a big park, with a big fountain, which was pretty. It had a chubby Chinese boy playing in it while his mother shouted at him. Geneva does fountains rather well—there are lots of them. There are also lots of Chinese tourists, and we found another million of them posing in front of the flower clock, which is another feature of Geneva. It is a big clock, made out of flowers (you could have guessed that really, I expect).

We looked at a few restaurants but they were all very expensive. Geneva is expensive. It is even more expensive than Milan, which until now I had thought was the most expensive city in the world. We ate dinner in Vapiano, which apparently is a chain and very well-known (I had never heard of it). It was very nice, and you could stand and watch while they cooked your food (pasta dishes). I had a very nice ricotta ravioli with garlic and chilli sauce, all ordered in my very bad French. It was rather fun.

Caught a bus back to the hotel, and glimpsed fountains and a giant chair as we passed the United Nations building—something to visit another day. Went to bed exhausted but happy. Geneva seems like a nice city, even if everything is hideously expensive. It is very clean, and safe, but I’m not yet sure whether it is friendly. I will tell you more tomorrow.

Hope you have a nice day.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Funny stories about travel with a family.

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An Escape Room in Cambridge

For Husband’s birthday, I gave him a voucher for an ‘Escape Room’—you know, those places where you go to be locked into a room, and then you solve various puzzles until you manage to escape (or you fail miserably and they throw you out because your allocated time has finished). I thought it would be fun if we did one as a family.

Of course, the most difficult part was finding a date when all the family could actually meet, but once that was achieved we were fine. Last Saturday we set off for Cambridge. The second most difficult part was trying to find a parking space in Cambridge, but we even managed that eventually.

We started with lunch in an Italian. I know my family have a tendency to ‘debate’ so I envisioned an afternoon listening to them ‘discuss’ the solution to the puzzle. I therefore decided to drink wine for lunch (I did have some lasagne too, but the wine was the bit that mattered.) After lunch there was a further challenge as we attempted to keep Husband with us while we tried to find where to go (he has a tendency to stride ahead, unaware that the rest of the group is unable to cross the road).

I began to relax once we actually arrived at the Escape Room, feeling that the most difficult challenges were over.

The room was not at all what I was expecting. For some reason, I expected a room, set up like a lounge, with sofas (where I could snooze off the wine) and a table of puzzles for my family to argue over. However, we were met at the entrance by an actor who explained the world was about to be hit by a comet, and then shown into a small room which resembled a cupboard, with a locker (locked) and a desk with a computer, and several posters on the walls. We then attempted to save the world.

In case you’ve never done one of these rooms, you’re not actually locked inside (so you can leave to use the loo or if your family becomes too argumentative). There were also several different aspects to the challenge, so people could try to solve one part, without having to collaborate too much with the rest of the group, and there was no necessity to persuade the rest of the group that you knew the solution, you could simply get on with your own bit—which worked rather well for my family. The puzzles were pretty perfect for us—there were some tricky ones, which it took several people to solve, but it was lots of fun. There was, surprisingly, no heated debate at all, and the whole thing was really good fun.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we did manage to save the world…

We visited the LockHouse Games escape room: link here

Thanks for reading, I hope your week has some fun times too. Next week I’ll tell you about my evening listening to random choirs in the shadow of zombies.
Take care,
Love, Anne x

While we were there, I was able to give the family copies of my latest book: Ploughing Through Rainbows. I wanted to write a happy book, so decided to write about a family on a farm, and as I wanted it to be a funny book, I gave the farmer four sons. However, there are also some gritty issues in the book, as it also shows how the mother, Susan, copes when one of her sons tells her that he is gay. Susan is a Christian, and the book shows her journey as she explores what parenting involves when faced with this news.

Please buy a copy, and tell someone else about it. It’s available from an Amazon near you, as both a Kindle book and a paperback. Links below. Thank you x.

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A Walk to Cley

A Walk to the Beach at Cley

We looked at a map (why did no one think of doing this before?) and realised that it is pretty much impossible to walk to the sea from Blakeney. I received feedback about my ‘by the sea’ cottage. The best way to reach the sea, is to walk along the road to Cley Next the Sea.

We set off with the dog and a supply of overly thin nappy-sacks that Husband had bought instead of doggy bags. Road was horribly busy. The dog always poops at inconvenient times, and the walk along the busy road was enhanced no end by also carrying flimsy bag of dog excrement.

Cley Next the Sea (I still cannot cope with the lack of preposition) is a pretty town with a windmill, tiny shops, and a narrow road that winds through the centre. The narrow road was very busy on Easter Saturday.

We stopped for ice-creams at what is possibly the slowest place ever to buy an ice-cream (very nice ice-creams though, if you have 3 hours to spare). While we waited, a small white VW approached the bend in the road, made a weird noise, and died. Instant traffic-jam.

Jay went and spoke to the driver, offering to push the car to a safer spot. A bolshy woman in large Range Rover behind the VW, honked loudly on her horn (perhaps she thought the VW driver had simply stopped for a chat). I went to speak to the Range Rover driver, to explain the VW was broken rather than incompetent. Driver of Range Rover rather rude to me. I slipped into ‘school-teacher-very-posh-you don’t mess-with-me’ voice (you never lose the ability) and very politely ground her to mincemeat. Family impressed by my telling-off abilities, even when holding flimsy pink bag of poop. (Actually, to be strictly honest, I think I had binned the poop by this point.)

I then went to save Bea, who was attempting to stop traffic from whizzing round blind bend where males were pushing car, whilst also holding 3 ice-cream cones, and a German Shepherd dog intent on snarling at a small white poodle.

Eventually, small VW was safely positioned in a side road, dog was back with me, ice-creams returned to owners, and bolshy Range Rover had driven off. As we left, we saw a coach approach the bend, which it couldn’t navigate due to a small VW being in the way…and all the traffic ground to a halt again. We left—someone else could solve that one.

We found the path to the beach. The beach is shingle, has a shipwreck in the sea, and has heaps of lobster pots and a few fishing boats. We walked towards Blakeney, but there wasn’t time to walk all the way to where the seals were—maybe next time.

Thanks for reading about our Easter trip, it was rather sad to leave Norfolk and drive home. Hope you have a lovely day.
Take care,
Love, Anne x

If you enjoyed this, why not read my travel book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary? Available from an Amazon near you, UK link is below (you can read it for free if you have a kindle).

Anne E Thompson has written several novels, available from bookshops and Amazon. She also writes a weekly blog — describing her travels, her animals, and life in general — why not sign up to follow her blog today?