Friday, September 26, 2008

Breaking News: Fusionman doesn't die


Yves Rossy aka Fusionman, flew across the English Channel with a single jet-propelled wing strapped to his back, and amazingly, survived. Definitely not something to try at home.

Here at home Roberto informed me he has purchased a pair of night vision goggles. I kid you not. I asked him what the hell for, and he replied so he could see the pacifier in Julia's crib to replace it in the middle of the night, and to read in bed while I am asleep. I told him that if he knows what's good for him he had better not wear those damn things in bed next to me. God knows I have bad enough dreams without waking up from one of them thinking I am next to Jame Gumb in the 'Silence of the Lambs'.

Men and their bloody gadgets.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Starbucks exchange

People often say, when musing how they should stop procrastinating and write their book, or quit that job they are unhappy in, or leave that destructive relationship etc, 'You never know what can happen, tomorrow you could get hit by a bus!' Basically that life is unpredictable and short, and that one should make the most of every moment, because you just never know what's going to happen.

Well, this evening Roberto and I actually met a woman this happened to. Only it wasn't a bus. Rather, two and a half weeks ago in Hampstead, she was hit by a car and thrown 15 feet, while stepping out from between parked cars. She spent two weeks in hospital, and is in a wheelchair awaiting test results to see what the damage is.

We met when Julia crawled up to her wheelchair in Starbucks and used one of the wheels to lift herself up into a standing position. The woman apologised to us, for some bizarre reason, and we were like, "No, no, it's us that should apologise to you." Anyway, the short end of it is that we got talking and without us even asking she came out and said, "You know on the 8th of September, after dropping some clothes off at Oxfam, I was hit by a car and that's why I'm in this wheelchair." She was very eager to talk about what happened and moved between almost non-stop talking and quietly tearing up. She was clearly, and quite understandably, anxious.

She told me the weird thing is that at the time it happened, her biggest concern was the fact that she had booked a cab to pick her up from home at 11.15 that morning to take her to a meeting, and that it would be waiting. It made me think of that line from the John Lennon song, 'Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.'

We tried to be upbeat and said that the fact that she could wiggle her toes and that she had some feeling in her legs was a good sign, but what the hell do we know right? I asked her what it was like sleeping at night, and she said it was terrible, "I'm unable to move from lying on my back, and I hate being in that position." She was incredibly hard on herself and kept looking over at her sister, over to help from America, saying, "I just feel sorry for Deborah here, having to do everything for me. I don't know what I would do without her." Her sister, a warm generous woman, didn't look as though she minded at all.

I imagine going from being a completely independent person in all senses of the word to being dependent on other people is hard for anyone. The whole thing was an incredibly vivid reminder of just how random these things are. I mean, the one minute she's running some chores in town, and the next, well, she's facing a possible future in a wheelchair. "I used to run marathons," she told us, "and now I don't know if I will ever walk again."

Let my people go, Vodafone

Vodafone have become my nemesis. Since shutting down my account with them, or at least thinking that's what I had done last week, I mean, 'I want to shut down my account,' is pretty self explanatory right? I've had two calls and two missed calls from their account closures department.

The first one caught me unawares while I was walking past Keats's house in Hampstead. An ominous sounding voice asked me to confirm my name and first line of my address. He then went on to ask me why I was closing my account. This was a golden opportunity to vent all my pent-up rage, and boy did I. He listened patiently and then, with no emotion in his voice, asked me if there was any way they could change my mind.

The conversation went something like this:
Me: No, I'm sorry
Him: Are you sure, I mean, is there any way we can keep your business?
Me: Listen, I'm sorry, but you guys, OK, maybe not you personally, but the people in your company are incompetent
Him: I'm sorry to hear that, but you've been a good customer is there some kind of deal we can do to keep you?
Me: Thank you, this really is the last time I'm saying this, but no. I am not interested, but thank you for your call OK?
Him: (Sounding sad and despondent), OK, thank you.

So I thought that was that, and I'd have my PAC code by now. But no, yesterday I see not one but two missed calls from that same account closures department. I didn't intentionally not answer, just happened to be busy with Julia on both ocassions.

Then today I got another call from someone called Daniel. Daniel asks me to confirm my name (which happens to be my pre-marriage name that they should have changed but never got round to doing), and the first line of my address.

The conversation went something like this:
Him: Hi there, I'm calling from the Vodafone account closures department, and I just wanted to ask you why you are closing your account with us?
Me: Jesus, are you people for real? I just spoke to your colleague on Monday. I mean, do I really have to go through all of this again?
Him: Um, well, is it because you have found a better deal elsewhere?
Me: Listen, you people are inept, as I told your colleague on Monday, and I have no interest in keeping my business with you.
Him: But...
Me: I've bought a 3G phone and as soon as you send me my PAC code I am going to use it. I do not want to use your company any more OK?
Him: OK, well, um, thank you

I realise that Daniel got the shit end of the stick, but the irony in all of this is that him calling me after I had spoken to two other people in his company unequivocally stating my decision to close my account and indeed believing it had been done, is exactly why I am closing my account. They evidently do not make notes on the accounts following phone conversations like this, or if they do they ignore them, and the result is that none of them know what the hell is going on.

I feel as though I'm trying to leave the Mafia or something. Just let me go already, and send me my god damn PAC code while you're at it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Mascara, Vodafone, and meth

I think mascara commercials, both print and television, are the best examples of false advertising. No one, except Julia of course, has eyelashes the kind you see in these ads. Basically three feet long and about a hundred per lid. I mean, who do they think they're kidding? You buy the stuff imagining you're going to get home, apply it, and not only get beautiful thick lustrous lashes, but a great body and a fabulous lifestyle too. And instead all you get are panda eyes from putting on too much, and disappointed at the fact that you didn't wake up with Jessica Biel's body.

Only recently I saw a Boots ad having the courage to include a subtitle which reads, 'Lashes styled using infills.' Thank you, thank you Boots for your honesty. I was so impressed I decided to go straight there to buy my next mascara. Only I saw another ad with a gorgeous celebrity and her impossibly long bushy eyelashes and got distracted. Reality, who needs it right?

I settled on the new Loreal mascara, featuring the impossibly beautiful Aishwariya Rai and her impossibly long thick eyelashes, called 'Volume Shocking'. I had a tough time choosing because they also had, 'Lash Architect', 'Lash Architect Midnight Black', 'Lash Architect Carbon Gloss', 'Double Extension', 'Double Extension Carbon Black', 'Panoramic Curl', 'Voluminous X4', 'Voluminous X5', 'Volume Shocking', 'Volume Shocking Exact Brush', 'Telescopic', and 'Telescopic Clean Definition'. And then men wonder why women take so long in Super Drug.

'Volume Shocking' does, and I can't believe I'm saying this, deliver the goods. It has this double wand thing so you have to read the instructions before using it. Yes I know, like I have time for that in the mornings. But it seems to work by coating the crap out of your eyelashes with two different types of stuff and therefore they do actually come out looking thicker and longer. I won't go as far as saying I put it on and people in the street stopped me and said, 'My god, we're shocked at the shocking volume of your eyelashes!,' but they were noticeably, well, noticeable. (I wish I could say this was a paid for plug, but unfortunately it isn't. If anyone at Loreal is reading this however, feel free to send me free stuff OK? I'm a total prostitute when it comes to cosmetics.

I ended my long term relationship with Vodafone today. I received a bill for 141.60 quid for 'Messaging, mobile browsing + data', this after signing up for their seven odd quid internet browsing deal (per month) in August. Apparently the guy selling me the plan failed to notice and indeed mention that my current plan was not compatible with that particular offer. So after getting a text assuring me it was now safe to inexpensively (don't get me started one what they charged me before) surf the net on my phone, I did so with reckless abandon, only to get hit by this bill.

So I called Vodafone. The short end of being transferred to and explaining the situation to about five different people and being put on hold for so long that I was able to make Julia's dinner and feed it to her while waiting, is that the mobile browsing and data amount is being credited to my account and I have closed it. It's not the first time they've managed to incur my wrath and it genuinely seems as though they have some people working there who don't know what the hell is going on.

The call centre guys have clearly been on 'Irrational Rage-filled Caller Training'. All the people I spoke to remained calm and professional, which was a bit disappointing really. I was chomping at the bit for a fight, even an argument, but no one went for it. I started off by shouting, 'What the crap are you people doing, I'm holding an enormous bill in my hands???!!!' And by the time I spoke to the 5th person I was like, 'Yeah ok, big bill, need refund and, oh yes, want to close account.' I reckon this business of transferring you from one person to the next is part of their plan to wear you out. Also, someone should do research into the subliminal anti-rage properties of bad wait music, I reckon there's something in that.

Ryan O'Neal and his son were busted with meth in LA recently. That's embarrassing. I mean it's one thing being caught out as a drug user, but quite another when it looks like you and your kid use together. There's something quite bad taste about the whole thing, not unlike having your mother cheering along to the stripper at your hen night. I don't have enough battery power in my mac to elucidate how much that notion creeps me out.

And finally, a Roberto quote of the day (after showing him a picture of Zac Efron on Dlisted and asking, 'Honey did you ever have these side stomach/groin muscles?')
"I have those muscles. They're just not visible!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Things do to with under 5's in NW3

If anyone asks me what the hardest thing I've found since having a baby is, the answer it not lost sleep and having to give up absinthe, as one might imagine, but rather finding ways to entertain my child, and likewise myself.

There's only so much Oprah you can watch, and when you child starts to crawl, even that goes out the window. Now you have to switch your attention from the TV to your child who is about to walk into the sharp edge of your glass coffee table. It's exhausting, and the best thing for it is to chuck em on the pile with other little people in a soft safe environment, so they can get on with it. And so that you can meet other parents. And believe me, no matter how much you like your own company, when you have a kid, other parents become beacons of sanity. Babies, for all their loveliness, are not great conversationalists, and you find yourself quite literally craving a good natter.

Anyway, I had a complete nightmare trying to find activities in my old area, so when I moved here to Hampstead I decided enough was enough and started accosting other mothers on the street asking them where I could take Julia. I got pointed in the direction of the community center, which has been fantastic. But that's only three mornings a week, what about Mondays and Fridays? What about the afternoons? I was desperate. And then, queue heavenly music, today someone told me about the nw3kids.co.uk website.

It contains a thorough list of things to do with children under the age of five in the NW3 part of London, categorising activities into such things as playgroups, singing, rhymes and stories etc. It even has bus routes and directions to help you get there. A real gem if you live in this neck of the woods. I emailed the site creator to thank her, who as legend has it, is some kind of super mom who took it upon herself to do this - god bless her. She asked that if anyone joins any groups on the site to please let them know they found said group through the site. Apparently it helps with the advertising.

I think every area should do this to help stop parents from becoming isolated. God knows I've been there and it sucks. So spread the word people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Business Time


This is absolutely hillarious! A big thanks to the lovely Roberto x

Friday, September 12, 2008

Our wedding revisited

Today we took Julia to see where we got married, and then later, where we had our reception. Our wedding venue, the gardens of the Chevre d'Or in Eze, are not looking as beautiful as I remember them. The lawn is a bit overgrown and the flower beds need some tending to. My view may also have been tainted by the fact that we were accosted by the hotel porters on two occasions demanding to know if we were guests.

Having little to no French on our part didn't help, matched by their incomprehension of English. So explaining that we had got married there two and a bit years ago and we were bringing our baby to see it, and that we had permission from the people in reception to do so was futile.

Thug, I mean, porter: You guest of ze otel?
Us (attempting to answer): Well not exactly but ...
Porter (interjecting): No!
Porter: You are not supposed to beez ere!

We mentioned the name of the events organiser and got some glimmer of recognition in what was otherwise a blank merciless glare, and were eventually left to our little walk down memory lane.

I was also a bit put out by the fact that they so quickly made up their minds that we clearly weren't guests. It's true that as the hotel is a part of the village, they get a lot of confused tourists who accidentally wonder into the gardens which are for guests only. Also, as it's a small hotel, there may be a chance that they knew who was staying there, and we clearly weren't it. But what if we were new guests that had just arrived?

Perhaps, and this was something I was not willing to face, we looked as though we weren't dressed smartly enough to be staying there. Roberto agreed that we did look a bit scruffy. "Speak for yourself," I said, "a bit of baby food on my shirt does not count."

Later we went to the Villa Kerylos and asked someone to take a picture of the three of us to sort of recreate one of our wedding photos. It was a complete failure, and only the location is the same. Roberto is squinting against the sun, Julia is looking confused and gripping my lip, and I'm trying to art direct the shot and maniacally grin at the same time, while enduring the pain of my lip being pulled off of my face. It wasn't a success, but perhaps in its way, a telling portrait of how children change your life. In a good way of course.

And in the news:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is not a comparative post

We are staying in Cap Ferrat in the South of France. Whereas Longleat Forest (Center Parcs) was coldish and rainy, here it is 28 degrees today. Although it has mostly been cloudy, it's wonderfully warm and balmy, which is almost perfect weather for babies and red-headed husbands who burn easily.

The two holiday venues are completely different, but then, to be fair, they are two completely different types of holiday. One of them does sell Prada in the lobby however - always a beacon of unaffordable civilisation if there ever was one.

Yesterday evening we went to eat at one of the little local harbour-side restaurants in St Jean Cap Ferrat. I had an assortment of fish, pot roasted with vegetables, and french bread. Roberto had cod with garlic mayonnaise, and we had a half bottle of wine and a bottle of water between us. All of this was a fraction of the cost to an equivalent dinner at, say, Cafe Rouge in Longleat. Also, it was freshly made and finger-licking delicious. I actually lost weight at Center Parcs, which, admittedly, is not a bad thing in terms of the size of my backside these days, but not exactly a testament to the fine dining on offer either.

Julia has a cold. This she could have picked up on the flight, or it may be from Longleat - there were quite a few people sneezing and snuffling. Well, cycling around in that kind of weather, and what do you expect? Last night I was up with her most of the night keeping an eye on her temperature and trying to keep her in a more upright position so she could breathe more easily.

At around 3am Roberto took over and I got some sleep. Till 6.30am that is when she decided it was a good time to wake up and welcome the day. I was just so relieved that her temperature (which fortunately had never got high enough to call a doctor) was down and she was chipper. A healthy, happy child following a night of illness is a gift from the gods and worth every minute of lost sleep, regardless of how many tubes of Touche Eclat one has to get through to look presentable.

We spent today at the pool where we had another delicious meal of grilled sole with lemon butter sauce for lunch. This time it was expensive, but as our hotel is favoured by Russian oligarchs, it's to be expected I guess.

Being happy, well-fed, and dry, probably means I won't be blogging to the same extent as I was at Longleat. In an unfortunate and ironic twist these things tend to have an adverse effect on my venting spleen literary juices.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It was the steak wot done it

Today, as previously mentioned, was rather horrible and rainy. But when you have a small child and rather ugly pebble dashed walls to stare at, it's best to get out even if it means getting wet. In the morning we put on our rain coats and took her to the Sports Cafe again, but not to eat (I'm not that stupid), rather to make use of their soft enclosed baby/toddler play area. After that we headed up to 'The Plaza' for an early spot of lunch at Cafe Rouge.

For non UK people, Cafe Rouge is a French brasserie chain. I use the one in Hampstead quite often for a hot chocolate and croissant, and it's perfectly nice.

For lunch today we both ordered steaks, Roberto's medium rare, mine medium. A while later two cuts of meat arrived looking as though they had seen better days. Mine was incredibly thin (and no I had not ordered the minute steak) and so well done it had carbon ambitions, and Roberto's was somewhere between well done and medium. I sent mine back and then received another piece of steak that was cooked to spec in places, blue in others, and fatty, stringy and nasty in others. Basically the cheapest worst cut they had.

I sat there thinking, 'What the fu*k???!!! Why does this keep happening to me? The thing is, although I write commentary, I'm not really the sort of person to complain. I never send food back, unless it's really bad, which has happened perhaps a handful of times in my lifetime. And by really bad I mean inedible, and why pay for something you cannot eat? It felt like groundhog day, and it made me angry.

We were eating lunch as it opened at 12 with only a handful of other patrons, so they couldn't even use the excuse that they were overrun and understaffed.

I felt sorry for our waitress too, who was working in a place that served such shyte. She seemed genuinely apologetic. I also never take shitty food out on the waiting staff by leaving a bad tip - it's not their fault.

We got back to our villa, took off our very wet outer clothing, and looked at each other. After checking the forecast (rain for the rest of the week), we decided if we didn't get out of there pronto, I could not be held responsible for my actions. We couldn't use the bikes, the pool was manically busy, and the odds on good restaurants were increasingly tilting towards shit. It was like taking a week off to stay in a really ugly flat you couldn't leave much, and get served bad food you had to pay a lot of money for. What was the point?

While Julia had a sleep we packed up our stuff, booked some flights, and tomorrow we are off to the South of France. Fingers crossed the weather is set to be around 25 and sunny, with a chance of rain on Friday. Hell, I'll take that chance.

I think what irks most is that this holiday was not inexpensive. The restaurants at Center Parcs are in line with their London counterparts in terms of prices, but with a captive audience they evidently take the piss in terms of quality. Saying that Roberto says he has never had good steak frites at Cafe Rouge, and he may have a point.

For those of you still interested in visiting, they are refurbishing and had pamphlets (with glossy photos) of villas that are a lot more stylish and in line with this century's decorating trends. If it's a warm sunny time of the year, your children are not babies, you like doing active stuff, and you don't mind a bit of a gamble with the restaurants, I'd say go for it. Will I go back? Not a chance. But then I may still be pissed about that steak. Oh and that breakfast. Oh yes, and the waffle.

Center Parcs - Day ? (I forget)

It's Tuesday morning, and, for my sins, it's raining. We've had rain on and off this holiday, but were fortunate yesterday in that it was only overcast. Yes fortunate to have coldish overcast weather instead of rain - you can see I've been in England too long.

We got fresh towels delivered yesterday - hurrah! Without even asking. I'm not sure how often that happens withing a week's stay, but I was overjoyed. The two cleaning ladies that arrived to do the maid service (they exist!) were rather nice and did a good job of cleaning up in the kitchen, packing the dish washer, and giving the bathroom a once-over. They even did a bit of vacuuming. I think over the weekend we were stuck with one cleaner on her own, the very glamorous 17-year-old (or so she looked) Tammy. Tammy told me she only does the kitchen and the bathroom, and the look in her eyes made it clear that I had better not ask for anything beyond that.

Yesterday we ventured down to the lake, and saw all sorts of outdoor activities, like zip slides and tree climbing things designed for zealous active sorts who have a taste for danger. The children's activity playground, for children aged four and over, looked genuinely fun. Roberto and I even had a go at the seated zip slide. Imagine a woman with a large backside, sun glasses, and impractical MBT's screaming loudly - and that would be me.

I've had some comments and a couple of emails about why we chose this place, I mean, considering how much I'm complaining. I didn't want to put Julia onto a plane again (getting to and through airports alone being an enormous schlep), and wanted somewhere not too far from home in terms of travel, for a week away.

In retrospect we probably should have gone abroad to avoid this miserable weather. Plus, as it turns out, this place isn't really suited to babies. I say that and yet I see plenty of people walking around with their prams looking perfectly happy. Rather, let me rephrase: if you are coming here to take advantage of the biking (it is the preferred means of travel to get around this place, which is rather large), it's not really ideal if you have a young baby.

The villa, although suffering from a case of bad taste interior decorating, is perfectly comfortable - nice bedding, soft (but thin) towels, and clean(ish). Plus, provided you don't get Tammy, the maid service is fine, though don't expect hotel-like standards.

Restaurants here have been a mixed bag:
Strada: Perfectly nice and in keeping with their goodish Italian chain reputation
The Pancake House: Fine provided you don't order a waffle. It is beyond me why a place that makes pancakes (and rather good ones), would use microwaved waffles. Or at least, that is what mine tasted like, and one that had been microwaved far too long. I had to send it back because it was inedible - think old boot left out in the rain, for 20 years.
Eat in delivery: We've had the Indian and Chinese food and both were very good. The menus were small and consisting only of popular dishes tailored to Western palettes (think sweet and sour and korma's) but those were done to a good spec.
The Sports Cafe: Horrible. We had breakfast there yesterday and they had these potatoes (round sliced and fried) which tasted as though they had been made at some much earlier point, then refrigerated, and then heated up again before serving. The bacon, beautiful Wiltshire bacon (which is famous and from this area), was overcooked to such an extent that you could make a handbag out of it. And the mushrooms and tomato were bland. The egg was good, and would have been even better were it to have come with toast, which it didn't - that was extra. What's worse is that they clearly had good ingredients and managed to destroy them, which is one of the worst possible sins in food preparation.

Service here is pretty good. The workforce appears to be populated by very young people, and they are enthusiastic, patient, and efficient. There are a broad range of activities in and around this place (archery, horse riding, laser combat etc) and in good weather I imagine one gets to fully appreciate the size of the forest with everyone spread out over multiple events. But, if it's pissing down with rain, then everyone gravitates to the indoor communal points, like that bastion of serenity, the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, and you get the aforementioned overcrowded chaos.

I think for future holidays I'd definitely choose a place with better weather, and in terms of opting for a child-friendly hotel/resort (because let's face it, we have to), I'd go for somewhere smaller and less inclined to fill to its capacity. I'd also quite like to have the benefit of self-catering accommodation (strangely beneficial with small children), but with the virtue of hotel services (room service, cleaning, fresh daily towels etc) should I so choose.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Will the real Winston Churchill please stand up

In Yahoo News:
'According to a recent survey one in four children think wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill is the name of the nodding dog in insurance adverts. The survey, which polled 1,000 eight to 11-year-olds, also found that children are much more likely to recognise 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' stars Ant and Dec than they are Gordon Brown.' Continue reading
Source and picture: Yahoo

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hell is 'The Subtropical Swimming Paradise'

The words 'subtropical', 'swimming' and 'paradise' are quite lovely and evocative even as they stand alone. Strung together and they conjure up something quite exotic and sublime. You might imagine topless women, the kind in Gauguin  paintings of Tahiti, serving you Pina Colada's from coconuts. And strange and beautiful coloured birds setting down to bath in fresh water that has cascaded down from a nearby waterfall.  You may even imagine yourself wading through crystal clear pools, and in my case, with Jessica Biel's body, wearing a daring bathing suit.

OK, so being a realist,  I had some idea that the ambitiously named 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise' here at Center Parcs couldn't possibly live up to my fantasy. And then there's the bit about it being a child-friendly place, so the topless Tahitian thing probably wouldn't go down too well either. So I had to have an open mind. And, is it turns out, way open would be best.

It wasn't like I imagined, nowhere near it. In fact, imagine the North and the South Poles and triple the distance between in terms of how wrong I was. The name, however, proved to be more accurate than I thought. 

They certainly got the 'subtropical' bit right, if by that you mean exceptionally hot, steamy and smelling like the output of a giant air conditioner expelling the odour of 500 people strong. And as for the swimming bit, there were people doing that too, what seemed like hundreds of them. And being a massive enclosed space with all these people and children swimming and yelling in the hot steam, let's just say there was some resemblance to what Bedlam might have been like at bath time in its heyday. 

The whole 'paradise' thing is what I have the biggest problem with however. Personally I thought it more closely resembled hell. And as I sat there in a little wading pool with Julia trying to hear my thoughts amidst all that chaos, I imagined myself working my way through an icy cold six pack of beer. And then another, somewhere far far away from that place.  I wonder if you can sue an establishment for driving you to alcoholism?

It might be that it's the weekend, and things will thin out in this coming week (we pray) as people return to work, meaning we may venture back there for another bit of swimming. Julia seemed equally effected by all that chaos and did a fair bit of on-off crying, which brings me to something Roberto and I have concluded - this isn't really an ideal place for babies. Were she a few years older she would most likely be joining in with all the other crazies; running around, splashing and being offensive, but for now she just seemed small and overwhelmed. 

She is also a bit on the small side for the bike trailer, and although fastened in tends to flop uncomfortably to one side. They are not the best designed in terms of back support, so probably better suited to slightly older children who readily sit up and forwards of their own accord.

But getting back to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, it had nothing on the Subtropical Swimming Paradise's changing rooms. Come gather all ye obsessive compulsives for a horror story to keep you up at night: Dirty, as in the floor, and wet too, and you weren't allowed to wear shoes (a wise move otherwise there would be even more dirt), even pool-side flip flops, once you had changed and were making your way to the pool. So we had to walk, barefoot, on this wet dirty tiled floor so that whatever the hell it was down there stuck to our clean feet. And don't even get me started on my fear of athletes foot. 

Then, on our return from the pool, I had a tired, crying, wet Julia in my arms, and an overwhelming smell of diarrhoea, that someone had just unleashed into the airwaves of the giant busy unisex bathroom/change rooms, hit me.
I was having flashbacks, to be sure, and the heat and stench were nauseating. Plus throw in about ten babies and children (including ours) in the various stages of crying/screaming.

I have come to the realisation that while I am a person with a child, I do not care for places that cater for people with children. It's just too anxiety provoking.

Saying that, I think this place is in many ways perfect for children, albeit, as I mentioned earlier, ones older than babies. There is plenty to do, then there's the bike riding, and of course lots of places to eat in and even order from in the evenings in the form of takeaways. So you don't have to get too bogged down by the self catering thing. Personally I think the words self-catering and holiday are mutually exclusive, but there are some people who quite enjoy cooking without the stresses of normal day to day work and life.

There seems to be a lot of family bonding going on, especially with the bike riding, and I imagine in a few years Julia will love it here. And when she comes here with her friends and their parents that are not us, I'm sure she will have a great time.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Center Parks - Day II

There is a sign on the door of the boiler room in our villa which reads, 'In the interests of safety, even where space permits, the boiler room must not be used to sleep in.' Bearing in mind that the room in question is a rather bleak L shaped one that is approximately a meter at it's longest end, I don't even want to imagine what happened historically to prompt the management to deem this warning necessary.

The bike riding today, once I got the hang of it, was actually rather fun, even without the fag and beer. It didn't even occur to me that the last time I rode a bike I was 10 or so, so it took a while to get going.  Not before looking like a complete eejit that is, as kids three times younger raced past on theirs, while I struggled with takeoff.  Julia was less impressed having to sit in her little covered trailer and did a lot of moaning. It was only when we took her out at lunch that we realised they'd given us one with a wet seat bench and her trousers were soaked through. On a hot day, no problem, but when it's coldish and raining, well, rather unpleasant. I probably don't need to spell out what I felt like doing to the spotty 16-year-old (all people younger than 30 appear 16 to me) that arranged that trailer for us.

We have yet to hit the water park - that's on tomorrow's agenda. We did walk past it however, and it seemed that adult and child alike were completely oblivious to the rain as they zooted past on the fun slide screaming like banshees. Adults behaving like children on these sorts of contraptions make me nervous. There's something of the maniac about them, and although it's one thing having a kid bash into you as you make your descent,  I imagine a 14 stone man doing the same may result in some serious chiropractor bills.

I ensured I bought a pair of board shorts so as to not expose people to the sight of my extremely pale ample thighs. I'd like to use the excuse that I've just had a baby, but as she's nearly 9 months old, I imagine people thinking, 'Yeah right, that excuse expired about 5 months ago.'

Just a few more notes on the place, as a reference for people who may be interested in coming here: The towels provided  for one's toilette, although thin, are nice and soft. These do not get replaced every day however. Now I now a bunch of you reading this will get all eco on me and say 'You don't need fresh towels every day,' and normally I would agree with you. But when you have a baby and um, er, maybe use the towels as changing mats, well, you get the picture. I believe there is a laundrette in town and one would most likely also be able to get fresh towels, but at an additional cost. 

We signed up for the maid service, but to be frank, I have no idea what that involves because the only noticeable change to our villa on our return is that the bed was made, and badly. That's it. So I think that that's a complete waste of time and money, and as these places come kitted out with dishwashers, I'd just lump it and do the tidying and cleaning myself.

As I write this Roberto has just removed a pan from the cupboard (prior to this unused, by us that is)  to make some bacon in and said,  and I quote, "Jesus Christ, I'm not using this, it's filthy, and the non-stick surface is peeling off!" And this is a man who isn't anywhere near my levels of hygiene obsessive compulsiveness. So yes, not really sure what that maid gets up to, if anything at all.

We ate in Strada today (for non UK people this is an Italian-themed restaurant chain). They had this little soft play area (this whole place is a dream if you have kids), and Julia was enjoying herself in it while we ate our main course. Then she was joined by two small children, one 19 months, the other 2 years. The mother of the two-year-old kept warning him to be gentle with Julia as she was only little, that is until Julia herself started to use the 19-month-old as a ladder, while the poor child looked terrified. We managed to scoop her up and out of there just before she managed to extract the handful of said child's hair she had in her possession. Little indeed. 

And now, dinner awaits and it's time to sign off. More tomorrow, provided of course I survive the rigorous of the water park.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Centre Parks - Day 1

I'm sitting here in the lounge of our Center Parks 'executive villa.' I think the designers, when using the word 'executive,' were going for the whole modular living bachelor pad circa 1978 / Holiday Inn look as their inspiration. Actually that's not entirely fair, the sofas, with their homage to the American Indian print, are more 1980's, and, I'm wondering, an intentional juxtaposition to the rest of the place?  

The contrasting curtains (orange) and carpet (green) were evidently a clever, and dare I say it, cheeky little decorating move. I have also never seen internal pebble dashing before. In fact, as I write this, I am surrounded by it. And not just in one colour mind you, but the walls are painted half and half in salmon pink and cream. I think the decorating genius behind our place was toying with our sense of colour and spacial awareness, and were I ever asked to help design a prison rec room, I'd blatantly plagiarise this look. And I'm not afraid to admit it.

OK, so interior decoration aside, which folks, is really as bad as I describe it, the place is pretty clean, well planned, and fairly spacious for our little family. We also have a beautiful view of the forest out of pretty much every window. The cutlery drawer will need a clean - it's a bit grubby, so that means all the cutlery will need washing too, and the mattress in the cot bed provided smells very faintly of vomit, but fortunately I brought my own cot linen. The latter was not provided by the way, but this may be something you can request.

We were going to bring our own travel cot but our car was absolutely choca block full. And don't look at me! Forget the days of packing matching shoes and handbags and the entire
Estee Lauder Christmas Special mega-makeup gift set. Travel with a baby means you get a tiny little space for a couple of practical things like khaki shorts and a pair of sandals, and the rest is all their paraphernalia.

Everyone is cycling around on bicycles here - it feels strange and unnatural - far too clean living and healthy for me. I have an instinctive desire to hire the shortest, fattest, slowest bike (with training wheels) they have, and amble around with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth and beer in my hand. After all, it is my holiday too right? Unfortunately it probably won't look so good with Julia in the little cart attached to my bike. And one must keep up appearances.

Tomorrow we are off into the town bit to go and hire some bikes (shortest fattest one for me), and see what's on offer activity-wise.

But for now, I have a glass of Chilean wine to attend to and perhaps, who knows, some scrabble with Roberto, if he is so kind.