31 July 2011

Dear Sophisticated Ladies

Thank you SO much to those of you who sent messages wishing me a lovely holiday and to the one I received saying how much you had missed me! I feel quite overwhelmed with love; swathed in a deliciously soft cashmere wrap fashioned with a fine filigree knit from the threads of my wonderful ladies. How utterly superb and quite blue stocking; in a Virginia Woolf meet Vita Sackville-West having passed through a Violet Keppel period!

I return to you gently bronzed with highlights au naturel which should save me several hundred Euros (sadly not the same number of British pounds). Having my locks shorn before I ventured sunward was an excellent decision as had I done so on my return I would have had an unimpressive white band around my neck! The unforeseen folly being not realising the lobes of my, not so diminutive, ear were exposed to daylight; yes I never thought of spraying factor 30 on these flaps of skin and yes I burnt them!

Aside from one day when I misjudged, through sheer ‘can’t be bother, it will be fine’ laziness’ I managed not to achieve the status of sun burn. OK, a nod to my travel companion who may be reading this, that may have been two days! I hadn’t appreciated that the sun could penetrate through a swim suit. For the first time, possibly in my entire life, I actually wore a bikini – not the string bottom variety I hasten to add. Tan lines have their uses in that one can demonstrate categorically that you are a different colour post vacation!

The wonderful thing about the place I have been to was the completely down to earth absolutely no pretensions air. The majority of people there were Portuguese families who own properties to which they decamp for the summer months. From grandparents to babes in arms and all ages in between; everyone was there and everyone was in beach wear.  The island was dripping in exposed flesh albeit not a bare breast in sight. Curves were the norm and flesh moved quite fluidly; much of it reflecting the movement of the waves!

Most amusing were the men proudly parading their stomachs; one gentleman in his seventh decade with a regal swagger passed by the house as I drank my morning coffee. He nodded and we both mumbled good morning in Portuguese; his accurate, mine politely inaudible.

The island can only be reached by water; there are no cars and only a few bicycles. The absence of vehicular noise, aside from the ‘van’ collecting the rubbish, was not something I missed or noticed actually. The ferry arrives and leaves once an hour during the summer day. Delivering beach seekers at the weekend and shoppers mid-week. The fresh fish and produce markets provide an amazing array of local food to entice one back into the pleasure of cooking slow food. Eating for me is usually perfunctory; a necessity and seldom afforded the time to enjoy the flavour of the food.

The house had a built-in barbecue which once established was relatively straightforward to ‘operate’ with the use of firelighters of course! Portuguese society is no different when it comes to the gender rules linked to cooking with fire. As two women we had a skill deficit in the BBQ building area but a swift Google search resolved that one and we didn’t look back! Next time I fully intend to observe and ‘comment helpfully’ when invited to a BBQ. No fear I have no intention of upsetting this boys only activity but the odd carefully lobbed comment may be thrown in the general direction of the apron wearer!

Two weeks of sun, sea and sand was just what was needed. The soothing power of the ocean could only have been improved by the raising of the water temperature; the Algarve is after all on the Atlantic, not in the Mediterranean. As a lover of sea swimming I naturally persevered but it was a little bit cold but hanging about too long! I confess I confined myself to breast stroke avoiding getting my head wet as a prolonged headache was not a pleasant prospect.

On arrival we were reliably informed that the occupant of the house opposite was the Mayor of the Island; indeed the presence of a Portuguese flag on its own flagpole confirmed this. A handsome gentleman in his early sixties seemed to be the only resident of this two storey house; most properties were single storey. Arriving on a Sunday I had a week of discretely watching Mr Putin (as I named him owing to his resemblance to the Russian of the same name).

Mr Putin was, to use Cardiff jargon, ‘fit’. Well kept for a man of his age he had a flat torso with some definition worthy of a second glance; and yes I didn’t confine myself to stopping a two looks! I confess to having a penchant for the older gentleman especially where there is an air of suave mystery. I think he may have realised that my casual observation was one of appreciation; I will regale you with my reasons for saying this at length in due course!

During the first week Mr Putin went about his daily business alone, usually eating with the family next door. For this reason I had assume he was a bachelor possibly (but unlikely as he had an aura of decency) a divorcee. However at the end of the first week Mr Putin was joined by a large family party consisting of a wife and 3-4 adult children with partners and small children/babies. Mr Putin was not single nor was he apparently available! Amused I was at my misjudged assumption!

On the Sunday night the family group departed as quickly as they had arrived and Mr Putin was once again alone. It transpired that Mr Putin was one of a group of men of a similar age who lived on the island ‘24/7’ and were joined by their families at the weekend. What an utterly charmed existence they have; it’s quite a perfect arrangement all round!

During conversation with an English man who followed a not dissimilar existence on the island I mentioned the Mayor. Askance amusement followed throwing scorn on my assertion that the gentleman opposite held a position in the local democratic structure. The retired monumental mason said he would find out if Christos (the ‘Mayor’s name) was the mayor. Of course Christos was not the mayor! Ironically Christos’ handsome wife was the Secretary to the Island and was the one to whom problems were presented for resolution!

By this time Christos formal status was frankly irrelevant; I had created a ‘life’ for him and was happy to continue embroidering, embellishing and fantasising. I will be writing, on the victorious endeavours blog, a series of episodes collectively entitled ‘Me and Mr Putin’; I am confident you will enjoy these adult fairy stories created for big girls!

To whet your appetite Mr Putin, along with most island residents, has an outdoor shower which he uses religiously. He prefers not to kill beetles; keeps the paddling pool clean and regularly filtered; tidies his shed; grills fish; has his own beer pumps which he uses; owes a range of snug swimwear; and would never let a girl get on the wrong ferry! These and many more nuggets will feature in the serial I intend to create.

When I got the idea I was reminded that there are similar local mayors and significant dignitaries on islands around the world including Scotland and Wales. The big fish in a small pond phenomenon is universal and power is awfully alluring ladies; now don’t let me think I’m a curious oddity! That simply would be unkind and not sophisticated!

I returned to Wales and to work relaxed ready for the fray. August was already planning to be busy owing to the 25th anniversary festival of the Magdalena Project on top of an already full freelance portfolio. On Tuesday a meeting originally planned for Cardiff was moved to Abergavenny; not a problem I thought as it is the school holiday. Already a little late I get a text from my colleague saying she was stuck in traffic at Cardiff Gate on the A48M. I was a little relieved as this made up for the likelihood that I was going to be late.

Well of course what neither my colleague nor I had realised was that there had been a fire in the Brynglas Tunnel (Newport). The car stopped in traffic at 9.30 and by 12 noon I had moved less than a mile; people turned off their engines and one person was seen clambering over the central reservation with a suitcase on wheel! He walked up the hard shoulder towards Cardiff presumably in an attempt to get to the airport.

A 12.10 a police car sternly instructed us to turn round and drive back to the exit. It is disconcerting driving the wrong way down the dual carriage way even if specifically instructed to do so! I never made it to the meeting as I had one of my regular long-standing appointments with some medical practitioner charged with ‘assisting’ with some aspect of my MS. Remind me to tell you about the email I sent to a researcher in response to a RIDICULOUS questionnaire I was sent recently!

And then on Thursday afternoon I missed a phone call from my brother as I was having a facial; sun damage needs to be ameliorated to minimise the wrinkles hiding amongst my freckles (or are they sun spots I wonder..). When I got back to the house brother phoned again and uttered the immortal words ’I guess you haven’t heard from mum?’ ‘No’ I responded knowing this was not going to be good.

To cut a long convoluted story shorter Dad had been rushed into hospital. Initially we had been told, by the neighbour who phoned, that he had had a suspected heart attack; poor mum was visiting her cousin who had had a hip operation. On Friday afternoon he had emergency surgery to remove part of his small bowel; it had to be done immediately otherwise he could/would have died (the doctor told him).

Our cousin the doctor described what had happened as having a heart attack in the bowel. He had been in a tremendous amount of pain and his stomach was distended. Once the tissue is dead apparently it has to be removed immediately hence the operation. I’ve seen him twice over the weekend and he is doing remarkably well for someone who will be 83 in August.

The impact on those of us especially my mother is difficult to measure but after the horrendous time we had last year one wonders how many times you can keep sane when the health of the one you love corrodes before your eyes. Many of you I know have been through similar situations; some very recently and with much sadder outcomes. All we can do is try; to support each other; ask the right (and difficult) questions and be prepared for the answer no matter what.

And so I end with the love I started with; collectively sophisticated ladies are pretty damned spectacular in our ability to survive with humour, perspective and tears (of joy and sadness). Our strength arms us against the world we are gifted with and the wisdom to sometime step off the merry-go-round knowing (actually) the earth won’t stop spinning!

Under separate cover I have finalised the Victorious Endeavours Autumn Salon Season starting in September with Claire Curneen, Kirsty Davies in October and Sue Williams in November. Thought provoking topics extend our curious endeavour into intellectual avenues…

In sophistication and lovely to be back!

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Filed under Musings of a Contemporary Spinster, Sophisticated Salons

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