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Let The Games Begin

Picture the scene........... My Husband and I sipping Chianti in top notch Italian restaurant. Exquisite food, perfect ambience, stimulating conversation. Hotel manager approaches to inquire if we are enjoying our dinner. He is from Milan and charming, has lived all over the world so much to discuss but suddenly with NO WARNING WHATSOEVER we are talking about football. I say 'we' but clearly I mean THEY as I have never discussed football in my life for the simple reason that I have ZERO interest in sport. I have no problem whatsoever with my husband spending HOURS glued to the TV mesmerized by balls, pucks and cars flying around all over the place and I positively encourage his five hour absences to play golf, but watching my fabulous mascarpone ravioli going cold on my plate as he and his new BFF dissect the current strategy for recruiting players to European teams is not my idea of a romantic evening. What is the etiquette in these situations? Can you resume eating while the third party is still table-side or must you patiently and politely (rictus smile in place) wait for the nightmare to be over? Eventually the sport talk ended, mainly because the waiter was hovering with our entrees. However not an hour later, over coffee in the bar (now joined by our clients) the conversation segues from current affairs to Canadian hockey. There is not much in this life that renders me speechless but Canadian hockey will do it every time. Just the word hockey alone conjures up awful memories of miserable schooldays spent in FREEZING England running round an icy field in a short skirt and flimsy top and being screamed at by a sadistic PE teacher. This is where my hatred of team sports was born and it had not diminished by the time I started dating. I actively avoided relationships with guys whose idea of a perfect weekend included chanting "ERE WE GO 'ERE WE GO 'ERE WE GO" at the Arsenal game followed by beating up a few yobby skinhead Tottenham supporters. I was more entranced by suitors who took me to open air classical concerts with picnics on the lawn. 

I have always been fascinated by women who genuinely seem to love watching and talking about sport. I'm sure it's a HUGE advantage in the mating game and I've lost count of the number of times I have overheard a conversation such as this:

" Oi Tone what's the new bird like?"

" Blond hair, big tits, loves football"

" You LUCKY bastard"

I don't possess any of the 'Big Three' attributes, my only sporting claim to fame is that I am a qualified trampoline coach and can still do a pretty impressive back somersault; sadly the opportunities to display my skill or to wend it into dinner table conversation are few and far between. It's clear that this is not a level playing field so I'm on the bench until the subject changes and I can deliver a cracking backhand and score a few points. 

Let the games begin.


The Hurt Blocker

The problem with the written word is that it is subject to the interpretation of the reader. In this age of social networking we are constantly bombarded with e-mails, texts and Facebook posts that provoke irritation, anger and in some cases depression and rage. Comments made in innocence and/or jest that would be fine when spoken in an appropriate tone, are open to misinterpretation and consequent retaliation, escalating minor disagreements into full scale wars. There are also many who are guilty of airing private disagreements publicly with cryptic comments that are designed to antagonize. This is not only cowardly it is contagious and dangerous. Text messages and Facebook posts are now being used as a new form of bullying and unlike the old fashioned physical bullying (where at least the bully actually ran the risk of having his ass kicked) the perpetrators are safely hidden behind their computers many miles away. I would be willing to bet that there is not one person reading this who hasn't experienced overwhelming rage resulting from an electronic message of some type. We are all capable of turning a friend into an enemy with one click of the mouse.

Work e-mails alone are responsible for my increasing need to consume chocolate (soothing) and  if we were allowed to drink alcohol at the office I would keep a stash of miniatures in my desk drawer for medicinal and anger management purposes. I have learned never to reply in haste to an e-mail that has upset or offended me and without running it by at least two other people. More often than not, given both time to properly digest the contents and another person's interpretation of the message, the perceived insult diminishes or disappears. I then get my response e-mails proof-read by colleagues to ensure that I am replying in a professional and not emotional manner. I am sure I have made a lot of mistakes. It is just too easy to write things that you would never actually say; it is a lot easier to be confrontational in writing than it is on the phone or in person. Someone needs to invent a filter that blocks statements that are cruel and unusual. Imagine how much better your day would be if every message you received was positive, loving and uplifting? There would be a knock-on effect that would no doubt result in world peace.

On the other hand I do receive many text messages and emails that make me laugh. I love sarcasm, banter and wit so it's always a joy to be able to relieve tension with a well thought out quip to someone who actually gets my humor. So my advice to anyone who is currently fuming over an internet injustice is have a glass of wine, wait twenty four hours and then Dish it Up in the most amusing way possible. The more we can learn to laugh at ourselves the happier we will all be. 

Now if only I could take my own advice....................... 


Hurricane David

As Hurricane Season in Florida approaches I feel anxiety setting in. I have not yet recovered from the trauma of 2004 when West Palm Beach was hit TWICE. The first one Hurricane Frances, was infinitely more stressful because we gave shelter to some friends who brought their dogs. We lost power almost immediately and things became somewhat fraught with four adults, three kids and two dogs unable to leave a house that was without air-conditioning in ninety degree heat. The house was PITCH black because of the hurricane shutters and the only contact with the outside world was the radio. Add to the equation the smelly dogs restless, barking and jumping all over my furniture; the kids bickering non-stop (well there's nothing else to do without TV, Play Station and computers is there?) and you may understand why after 36 hours of DISGUSTING behavior from my offspring, I finally snapped and decided that for the first time in at least five years Rockstar was going to get a jolly good thrashing. 

I flew up the stairs (in total darkness) literally FOAMING at the mouth, grabbed his arm and administered three good whacks to his backside before a terrified and unfamiliar voice cried out "What are you doing to me? It's David!" Then followed the horrifying realization that I was actually assaulting the son of our guests while Rockstar lay smirking in his bedroom. Luckily we were all able to have a good laugh about it and no-one felt the need to call social services.








The Mother of all Days

Don't even THINK about going to a restaurant today. Mother's Day is universally acknowledged (by everyone in the service industry) as being one of the worst days in the year to eat out - trumped only by Valentines Day. Even with a reservation you will wait for your table, the food will be lousy, the service appalling, and you WILL end up fighting with your fractious hungry family. On top of all that you will pay double the price of dining at the same restaurant on a different day. So what to do? Most families eat out on Mother's Day because they want Mother to have a break from doing the cooking and perhaps Mother is so pathetically grateful that she won't care about any of the above but will sit trance like through the whole torrid affair chewing her way through a tough piece of leather masquerading as a steak and sculling down a flagon of wine. I prefer to celebrate this event at home. If your husband and children can cook CONGRATULATIONS you win the successful mother prize and can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. My family could probably throw together something vaguely edible but it's not an issue as I love to cook for any special occasion (as long as others clean up the mess.) It's the day-to-day monotony of feeding everyone meat and two veg that bores me into a coma. So today you will find me in my element; after all it's MY day and what could be better than having all my kids (biological and inherited) round my dinner table devouring my food and laughing at my jokes? I will be basking in their praise for my fabulous creations, after all this really is how I want to be remembered and NOT for all the times I drove them mad with unnecessary reminders to do stuff they had no intention of doing. 

Show your appreciation to your Mother in whatever way will make HER happy. For most of us a homemade card and a heartfelt hug is more than enough, although flowers and spa gift cards say I LOVE YOU very effectively too. Take us out for dinner any other night of the year when the restaurants are not overcrowded and the food isn't overpriced. We will appreciate a night off cooking on any ordinary mid-week evening JUST as much.


My Mother's Day Menu

Champagne and strawberries

Avocado dip and chips

Build your own burritos



Flying With Flair

This year I seem to be spending a lot of time traveling for work and one thing that is really starting to grate on my nerves is how badly dressed the average person is for their journey. Even in business class, standards have dropped to an all time low with suits or even chinos and a blazer being kicked to the curb in favor of blue jeans and a button down. I understand that when flying long haul comfort is king but spare a thought for your fellow travelers enjoyment before you don your travel attire and shoot for something aesthetically pleasing. The general misery of the airport experience is heightened by the masses sporting skanky old tracksuits, exposed midriffs and fluorescent lycra. 

On the other hand a well turned out passenger is a sight for sore eyes and ensures a temporary lifting of the travel-worn spirits. Last Sunday, amongst a sea of velour and scruffy t-shirts I spotted a woman (of a certain age) resplendent in a Vogue-worthy ensemble of black, red and white. Her accessories all matched and the classic outfit was completed with a fabulous black hat that would fit right in at a society wedding. Even more impressive, this elegant lady was traveling coach; an example to us all and proof that the class is not all at the front of the plane. I was full of admiration and inspired to improve my own flying wardrobe. I am way past the age where anyone is going to stare at me for my youth or beauty so I may as well have them stare at me for my well tailored jacket. I plan to have some fun with fashion and drop a few dollars on an outfit that will be both comfortable and stylish for my next business trip. Hopefully this will not be simply self indulgent but will give a morsel of pleasure to the next person who stands behind me at the security check.


Lost In Translation

Before I traveled to Venice I had the good sense to read Jessica Spiegel's 'Top ten things to do in Venice.''I only had one day to explore so tackling all ten seemed a tad ambitious. Also I am planning to return for a longer visit with my husband so I wanted to save some of the best things (like # 4 touring the Basilica) for then. I decided that come hell or high water I HAD to achieve the other four items of the top five on Jessica's list. Fortunately I was able to cross off number five the day before my Venice day as I had some chandeliers to inspect at a Murano glass factory while still in work mode. That left three tasks for the following day.

1. Get lost in Venice

2. See St Mark's Square when it's empty

3. Take the # 1 vaporetto for a Grand Canal tour.

Determined to make the most of my travel mentor's advice I left my hotel at 6.45 am and made my way towards Piazza San Marco. The streets were TOTALLY deserted, it was just me and the road sweepers cleaning up yesterday's litter. I was able to complete task # 2 and see a major landmark of  the city while everyone else was still asleep. I must confess that I succumbed to a quick gondola ride (even though it wasn't on the top ten list) because I wanted to snap photos of the smaller canals that could only be taken from the water. After that It was still really early so I was able to complete task # 3 with a vaporetto (almost) to myself!  As beautiful as it all was, the tranquillity didn't quite fit my preconception of the venetian experience and I began to wonder if the place would be even better when there were some people milling around. WRONG. Within two hours the city had changed from heaven to heaving. The metamorphosis took place while I was indulging in a quick rest stop, I emerged from the cafe to find myself literally crushed by tourists. A day of fighting the crowds seemed as enticing as boiling my own eyeballs so I decided to jump to # 8 on the list and escape to Burano for a few hours. That was when I realized my first MAJOR error. I should have purchased my 12 hour boat pass BEFORE the entire visiting population of Venice had the same bright idea. A GRUELING forty minutes later (and wishing I knew some Italian curse words) I couldn't face joining yet another long queue for the first boat so I marched off on (Sketcher clad) foot to get to the departure point for the ferry to Burano. Trust me, as romantic as using boats for public transport sounds, sailing on the Grand Canal with passengers stuffed cheek by jowl and your nose in HORRIBLY close proximity to someone else's sweaty armpit is no better than riding the train during rush hour on the London Underground. 

Venetian life is SO much better when you are walking in the breeze in the opposite direction to everyone else. I felt decidedly smug as I wound my way over pontes and along calles to my destination. Arriving at Fondamenta Nuove I still had twenty minutes to kill before the Burano bound boat so plenty of time to indulge in my new drug of choice, espresso. Thank GOODNESS I gave up all that de-caff nonsense before coming to Italy, I would have been a social outcast. Espresso is an acquired taste and I have certainly acquired it. I love the tiny cups and the fact that you can stand at the bar, a woman of purpose and knock back a shot of caffeine. No more looking like a sad git while lingering over a cappuccino at a table for one.

First onto an empty boat, I had the best seat (outside at the back) but by the time we arrived in Burano we had picked up ALL the people I was trying to get away from, at the three stops en-route. AAGGGGH. Not to be deterred I disembarked, quickly left the main drag and spent a couple of hours enjoying the simplicity of brightly painted houses with the daily wash in co-ordinating colors hanging from windows - life as art.

By the time I got back to Venice the madness had subsided but it was already four o'clock and I still needed to complete the most important task # 1 - getting lost. This is a lot harder than it sounds (in fact you have to be a bit of a plonker) because you are on a small island and every other street has a signpost to one of the three major landmarks. I put my map away and burrowed deep into the smallest alleys I could find. Three hours later I decided I was finally lost (hurrah) when I seemed to have gone round in circles and was forced to ask for directions. Happily, since I don't speak a word of Italian I felt even MORE lost when I couldn't understand the replies.

At this point I had been walking for about ten hours in my Sketchers (so if my backside isn't now toned to perfection then it never will be) and I was tired and grumpy. More than ready for some R & R, it was time to revert to the map and get back to S. Marco to see how it looked with people in it. I planted myself next to the Basilica, in front of a restaurant with a string quartet, ordered some wine and olives and soaked up the ambience. After a blissful hour my good mood was restored until I got the bill and realized that there was a FIVE EURO surcharge for the Vivaldi - I was LOST .......for words. Oh well, it actually was worth it.

This morning I said goodbye to the most romantic city in the world and dragged my luggage towards the taxi rank. To get there I had to cross a HUGE bridge with about a hundred steps carrying two heavy suitcases plus a shopping bag full of pasta, pesto, biscotti and chocolate (my gluttony is always my downfall.) I stood at the foot of it feeling completely defeated when a handsome young local approached and in broken english asked if he could assist me. On the other side I thanked him profusely, full of euphoria for this wonderful place and it's chivalrous inhabitants whereupon my Italian stallion gave me a look to kill and DEMANDED to be paid. What happened to the random act of kindness and compassion? I guess it was lost in translation.


A Road By Any Other Name

I have spent the last three days touring Northern Italy. Before you get too excited and start expecting colorful accounts of local culture and cuisine I must warn you that 90% of that time has been spent hurtling along autostradas in a miniscule Fiat. Most of the main artery roads in this region are only two lanes wide however there is no traffic because the Italians have a system: All trucks stay in the slow lane BY LAW and everyone else travels at 150 K in the fast lane. If you don't have the stomach for that you can sit in the slow lane doing 50 K with the trucks. No overtaking except by cars and on the LEFT ONLY. The system actually works because EVERYONE follows the rules. Unlike Florida where the system seems to be pick a lane, travel any speed you want, don't use your indicators and overtake constantly on whatever side takes your fancy. If that methodology is ever adopted here the whole country will be in gridlock.

My favorite travel quote is " Tourists don't know where they've been and Travelers don't know where they're going" (Theroux.) I'm not sure I fall into either category on this trip, but I've been FAR less concerned about where I've been OR where I'm going than I have about arriving in one piece. My furniture supplier (and driver) has spent the majority of our fast lane experience dialing his cell phone or fiddling with the GPS. By the time we got to the factories I was a jittering wreck and having knocked back a welcome shot of expresso, even more hyper than usual. After examining expert craftsmanship and correcting a few minor errors it was back in the car for another two hours of TORTURE to the next location. We went to Verona but I didn't see the Teatro Romano and we went to Padova but I didn't see the oldest university in the world. So despite a delicious rustic pizza in a restaurant patronized only by locals I was feeling VERY deprived. Thankfully yesterday afternoon the supplier took pity on me and drove me (slowly) through some picturesque little towns in the Friuli area. From a castle high on a hill, gazing down at ancient stone houses with red roofs and stunning landscape I was swept off my feet by the perfection of it all and could finally ask
" Did my heart love till now?"

Today my reward for surviving another hair-raising re-run of Speed without a word of complaint, is a trip to a local food store. Cutting me loose in a place stuffed with parma hams, speciality pastas and chocolates is going to be disastrous for my waistline and my baggage allowance but I DON"T CARE. I plan to spend a small fortune on things to take home so that next weekend I can Dish It Up Italian style. Does that make me a traveler or a tourist?

Somewhere in Northern Italy


Sister Jude of the Traveling Rants

Delta Flight 98 to JFK is still on the runway and I have already had enough of this journey. Bad weather is the arch enemy of efficient airport operations and now seems to be a regular feature of our lives regardless of what season we are traveling in. This April day was no exception; torrential rain started at 5 am, a good indication of the trials ahead and ensuring a hair-raising but slow ride to the airport.

I have lived in Florida for ten years but this is my first departure from Fort Lauderdale and it's not an experience I am planning to repeat. Terminal 2 makes some of the third world airports I have been in look like NASA. Checking in was sheer TORTURE, not enough staff and broken self service stations. The departure lounge food outlets are HORRIBLE, no Starbucks in sight so I paid $11 for a (bone dry) tropical chicken sandwich and undrinkable coffee. The only tropical thing about the sandwich was the fact that it was assembled in South Florida. The Tannoy system wasn't working properly so the announcers were all talking over each other and it was impossible to hear your flight being called. There wasn't a spare seat anywhere (unless you were willing to sit next to a tantrum throwing toddler.) As the airport had been closed for two hours (due to lightening) and many flights delayed or cancelled the lounge resonated with the sound of passengers shouting into their cell phones and DEMANDING to be re-routed so they would not have to spend one second longer in the chaos. 

I realize that all of the above would try the patience of a saint but some passengers are unnecessarily rude, obnoxious and aggressive. I just got my head bitten off by a crusty old retired brigadier type and his pinch faced wife who thought I was trying to cut in front of him when all I was trying to do was make my way through a group waiting to board at the adjacent gate. Even my sincere apology delivered with british accent was not enough to placate them. These people need to get a clue, the british INVENTED queueing we do NOT cut in line.

We are now airborne and moods have improved considerably (probably due to the complimentary wine) Unfortunately I am still digesting the disgusting sandwich so I will not be sampling the exquisite looking chicken cobb salad and fruit plate on offer for lunch. Never mind I am too busy to eat anyway as I have internet service at 35,000 feet! It may still be chaos down on the ground but up here we have blue skies and I'm in cyberspace heaven. Going to make the most of it before the next bout of madness at JFK.