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It’s very French 

  
Posh as I am, being a lady and all, and in keeping with the standard which one expects, I booked valet parking at the airport. 

I have set off in style and my hair is looking fantastic, really very shiny. 

The admiral and I set off merrily (and early) to drop off the car and, with only three trips around the south terminal ‘ring road’, find the valet parking section eventually and bin off the car. 

After a nice, speedy check into the flight, I skip excitedly into the shopping extravaganza that is gatwick airport. It has a harrods and everything. Glancing briefly at the departures board, I notice a typo suggesting that information about our gate number is due forty minutes after the flight is due to take off.  

Naturally, I ignore it, assuming it has been written by an idiot. 

Three and a half hours later, we board our rather delayed flight. Taking it all in my stride and, of course, in the style of a lady, I have delicately sipped but one glass of prosecco and am feeling very jolly cheerful. The flight takes off and I immediately power down and fall asleep. 

France greets us and is unmistakably, unavoidably and uninvitingly French. Semi dilapidated, graffitied to within an inch of its concrete ugliness and a season behind balmy Blighty. 

Here it is most decidedly winter. Bare trees, sitting water and ugly, churned up fields with ramshackle, crumbling farm buildings fly past the windows of our coach. 

We eventually arrive in val d’isere at 20:30, and I am astonished and very pleasantly surprised to find that val is utterly gorgeous. A veritable winter wonderland. 

The snow is falling thick and fast (a dump of 78cm is forecast overnight), the trees are lit with twinkling lights and the buildings are a beautiful combination of creamy wood and stone. 

We check into our chalet which is similarly delightful and settle down to a wonderful meal and wine in front of the fire with riveting conversation with our ski comrades. 

And, most importantly, my hair still looks fabulous. 

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Val d’isere with Lady Jane

  
Val d’isere here I come!!

But first, there is gatwick. 

The admiral and I check into the delightful crown plaza, just two and a half miles from the airport, and settle down to a well deserved drink and lovely meal. We are, after all, on holiday now. 

I am reliably informed by hawkwood that Crawley, our present location, is affectionately known as creepy Crawley by Brighton folk. 

Despite being only twenty miles away, he declines my invite to join us for a drink. 

Miserable sod. 

I eat too much and elect to take the stairs back up to the room in an effort to walk off some of the calories. 

“Isn’t this carpet well vacuumed?” I exclaim to the Admiral. “Not a bit of fluff in sight”.

This is surely going to be a raucous trip. 

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The sip test

  
Those around at the height of Pepsi’s fame will, no doubt, remember the infamous ‘sip test’: the Pepsi challenge. Recently reinvigorated and used to great success by aldi, the sip test is a wonderful piece of marketing in which two or more items are directly compared in a blind taste test. The fantastic thing about this as a marketing technique is that it demonstrates, fairly and squarely, which product tastes best leaving the consumer in absolutely no doubt whatsoever as to which product they should be spending their hard earned cash on forever more. 

Being quite a fan of both repetition, research and eating, I have, over the last month, been conducting a similar comparison survey of quiche. 

Not just any quiche, oh no. Quiche Lorraine. 

I must confess that this is not my first quiche survey. A similar study of supermarket quiches in 2008 yielded a incomparable front runner for the quiche Lorraine of the year champion which was awarded to the co-op. 

Unsurprisingly, following the survey, I had no desire to eat another quiche for what could possibly have amounted to the rest of my life and avoided it at all costs thereafter. 

I had no reason to believe that I would ever feel the way that I did during that short couple of months in 2008 again. All of my repetition tolerance and penchant for creamy, egg and cheese based fillings were believed to have evaporated, or else exploded in the microwave as a quiche does when heated for anything over sixty seconds. 

So the autumn of 2015 took me by surprise when, quite out of nowhere, Queen Vic offered me a slice of egg and bacon quiche, and I accepted. 

I felt as I had during that short spell in 2008 again: utterly enamoured and delighted with quiche. The heady scent, the rich, cheesy flavour, the blancmange like texture. I was hooked. Again. 

I don’t start out looking for things to survey. I do not believe myself one of the imaginary Klump family from Take a Break magazine, considering it my duty to inform the world as to the best tasting anything. It is the inevitable draw of the alternative and therefore it’s comparison which seizes upon me, forcing me to continue on and test all available options. 

I have now re-tested not only all of the supermarket options with the additions of posh places like waitrose and marks and Spencer’s but also one purchased in a butchers. I even went as far as making one myself (yes, pastry and everything) which reminded me just how lucky we all are not to have to make everything ourselves any more and how easy we have it being able to pop to asda at three in the morning if we so desire to retrieve a midnight quiche snack. 

This all got me thinking about the sip test genius that was Pepsi. You see, the Pepsi challenge was incredibly successful and raised Pepsi up to the dizzying heights reserved only for Coca Cola. Coca Cola did not like this. They did not like it one bit. One can only imagine the tantrums and chairs being thrown in the CC boardroom during Pepsi’s heyday which, amazingly, prompted CC to adjust their much prized recipe in an attempt to compete with Pepsi. 

However, gentle reader, CC had made a grave mistake in altering their recipe to match the sweeter, sip test winning flavour of Pepsi. And the mistake was thus: a sweeter flavour may taste better in sip format, but not over a whole can. Devoted CC fans were outraged at the change and sales dropped amidst riots in the streets (one imagines) until the original CC recipe was restored, people accepted that Pepsi tastes like shit and everyone could get on with their lives. 

The sip test may rock the equilibrium but it will never reinvent it. 

And so I found, on a grey November evening when I tasted the much anticipated M&S quiche Lorraine with free range eggs (quite rightly) maple smoked bacon, mature cheddar and Gruyere cheese that it is still so: utterly delightful and outrageously tasty at first bite, I struggled to get through a quarter of the posh offering, let alone the half that had set the variable for the other contestants.

So herein lies the lesson: what at first sip may seem sweet, delicious, moreish may not turn out to be so after more rigorous and lengthy tasting. And if you’re looking for the ultimate quiche Lorraine, you still cannot do better than the co-op. 

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Something for the lady? 

  
My day starts in a more vexing style than I would like. 

Mid ‘snooze’ I hear the faint hum of machinery. The high pitched screech and whirring cuts through my semi-consciousness and reality pours in. 

It is bin day. 

Consciousness begins to take a hold of me and quickly informs me that my bin is not out.

I spring from my bed and to the landing window to assess the severity of the situation. It is as I feared; the bin lorry has just passed my house and is successfully emptying next door’s bin from the roadside position required for a bin to be emptied. 

I sigh to myself, cursing last night’s me who convinced me, loyally, that she would put the bin out this morning. Stupid cow. “Won’t listen to her again” I vow. 

I roll into the Marriott after another peaceful and relaxing day where everything has gone to plan and not a single problem has arisen to find that they are experiencing some kind of power cut. Feeling my way through the dim entrance I find the reception desk and enquire as to the lack of lighting in the reception area. 

“Oh it’s to create an ‘armbiarnce'” the receptionist informs me, rolling his eyes. He seems to have a similar opinion to me of the new ‘lighting plan’. 

Exhausted and disgruntled, I consider getting room service and jumping straight into bed. I wander over to the window to close the curtains when something catches my eye. An ethereal, blue glow right below my window. The hotel pool. 

The impossible happens. The unbelievable. The inconceivable. I go for a swim. 

After six months of carrying my swimming kit around with me, I actually go to the swimming pool and swim in it. And let me tell you, I enjoy it! I enjoyed it all the way up until a group of lads who, presumably, have never been to a swimming pool before, descend upon the pool area, forcing the rest of us civilised pool goers to retire from our magical haven and return to the real world. 

The swim has done wonders for my mood and fatigue and I decide to push the boat out even further and eat outside of my room, where other people are. 

Feeling as benevolent as a lad who has just discovered a pool, if slightly quieter, I order a glass of prosecco and boeuf bourguignon and settle into a comfy looking sofa for a delectable evening of talking amongst myself. 

But something is remiss. 

This comfy looking sofa is not comfy. It is too long in the seat and my posture is all out of whack. I glance around for a cushion. There aren’t any on my sofa. I cast my gaze further afield but, to my surprise, there are no cushions on any of the sofas. 

I flick back through my mental files. This bar definitely normally has cushions. I flash back to a late night vault over the sofa across from me and the casting of cushions hither and thither in my wake. The new, no cushions policy may actually be for good reason. 

My favourite bar staff member appears and offers me his usual hotel charm, “How are you this evening madam? Is there anything I can get for the lady?”

Puzzled, The lady enquires after the missing cushions. He also looks around and seems similarly puzzled by the cushion drought. The lady discusses the possibility of cushion abduction and asks if they had to be removed because of too many pillow fights breaking out in the bar. Ever the consummate professional, he smiles politely and makes a sympathetic comment about how poor the sofa is for the lady’s posture sans cushions and potters off to remedy the situation “immediately”. 

Suitably placated with a selection of cushions and priding herself on bringing this important omission to the attention of someone clearly enrolled on the management training programme, the lady enjoys her dinner and retires. 

Bounding up the stairs to my room, I indulge myself in a nice, big, noisy yawn. I round the corner, mid yawn, and notice a pair of high heeled shoes on the floor. Looking up I find their owner stood, eating biscuits and looking at my still rather large, yawny face. 

Ever the lady. 

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Such Fun

  
Dear points of view,

Why oh why oh why has it become popular, nay, expected, to have a fun fair at a bonfire? 

Why? 

Do fun fairs have some kind of relevance to the gun powder plot? Was Guy Fawkes, in fact, on his way to a fun fair when he took a detour to blow up the Houses of Parliament with a sparkler he’d saved for later?

Fun fairs have gained a reputation for being synonymous with fun. Their reputation is unwarranted in my humble opinion. 

I reject anything where ‘fun’ has been organised, commercialised, repackaged and sold back to me at a ridiculously inflated price. 

‘Fun’. A commodity. 

How dare they?!

The very notion. 

That I should find something fun because it has been marketed as so. 

Fuck off Disney. 

Although I will say that, when dragged to Disneyland against my wishes, I bloody enjoyed every second of it. Bastards. 

But fun fairs are NOT fun. 

Fireworks are not improved against a backdrop of bright, flashy lights and cotton eyed joe turned up to eleven. 

Except the fun house. Which I managed to restrain myself from going on in fear of scattering small children in my wake, screaming down the helter skelter and inhaling a lungful of the ‘fun foam’ which was lulling otherwise filthy, shower avoidant children into having a wash. Clever. 

So why have I attended? 

Because I love a fire. 

Is there anyone that doesn’t? 

Especially when it has build me up buttercup as the soundtrack. 

  

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Vertigo

  

I set off for Manchester, a mere hour and a half drive away, at a suitably early time to miss the traffic and enjoy a leisurely dinner before my first gig in over twelve months. 

Three and a half hours later, I arrive having driven past the hotel three times and circumnavigating the one way system one time too many. 

I erupt into mal maison, infamous for leading celebrities into coke fuelled orgies with hookers (apparently), throw all of my belongings onto the floor and collapse into the seat next to Bridget. 

Let it not be said that I don’t know how to make an entrance. 

I devour a cosmopolitan, for good measure, before retiring to change for the evening. 

Johnny Vegas strolls in and sits in the bar for a drink. Posh place this. I suggest to my comrades that we offer him the fourth, redundant ticket to the gig. Unfortunately, he is gone by the time we come to leave and so misses the gig. His loss. 

Another cosmo later and we jump into a taxi and head for the academy 2. 

My fellow gig goers, Bridget and the Manc, are Reel Big Fish virgins, as I imagine most of the population are. They are surely missing out. 

The eclectic mix of ska with punky, bouncy rock is, admittedly, not for everyone. But I love it. The atmosphere is appropriately light hearted and friendly and we begin as we mean to go on with rounds of doubles in plastic cups and lots of laughing and bouncing around to the music. 

Being a lady, I am naturally unequipped for drinking, and neither practice it often enough or drink very much when I do. It has therefore not escaped my attention that I have been drunk since the first cosmo downing and have drunk rather a lot more since then. 

But I am thoroughly enjoying myself and the company of my fellow gig goers and consider that I have become a master of drink. 

We leave the gig on a delirious, euphoric high and the Manc guides us to another bar. There is a catch though. It is a smart, sophisticated bar for smart, sophisticated people. Not sweat soaked pissheads like myself who, by now, cannot see straight. 

Buoyed by the alcohol, however, I am invincible and the master of disguise and illusion. I take pole position of being smart and sophisticated and, adopting my most charming smile, breeze past the security team and straight into the lift bound for the high rise bar. 

Being equally charming to the bar staff, we find ourselves ushered to a table with an immense view of the city through floor to ceiling windows. 

I am not good with heights. 

I sit down and stare at the cocktail menu, turning the pages believably while barely being able to see them, let alone read them. 

I order another cosmo, can’t go wrong with that can you, and realise, all of a sudden, that I am utterly hammered beyond my wildest dreams and that my body has pretty much had enough of having half the vodka in Russia in it. 

I retire to the ladies room. 

I find that I am unable to raise my head above my heart without getting severe vertigo. 

What feels like three hours later, I am able to hold my head up long enough to evacuate the smart, sophisticated bar, my disguise rumbled and, somehow, to get down the lift and to the fresh air outside. 

I eventually pass out back at the hotel and dream of coke fuelled orgies with hookers. 

I awake surprisingly chipper the next morning, the beauty of drinking vodka all night apparent, and Bridget and I head off out of Manchester. 

We are immediately lost in the one way system and head into a dead end before I lose the will to live and hop through a bus and taxi only lane. A police car drives by but doesn’t stop. Thank god. 

I vow never to drive to Manchester again. 

Or drink. 

  

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A night to remember

  
I decide to take my new car on a test run to the Admiral’s house. 

I arrive at my destination and look at the Admiral forlornly. “I’m not sure I like my new car” I say quietly. He is walking up the stairs and stops, turning sharply to look at me, his face full of concern. “I love it!” I exclaim, far too loud. 

He laughs all the way up the stairs. 

“Why don’t we go for a curry?” I suggest to The Admiral and Queen Vic once she arrives. 

We pop along to one of The Admiral’s new haunts. Queen Vic is unimpressed at the change in our usual currying habits, but goes along with it. Grudgingly. 

Having been chained to my desk for what feels like an eternity, I am simply delighted to be out. Anywhere. Anywhere is fine by me. 

The Admiral tries to guide us towards either popadoms or starters. I remind him that I am out and will be having both. 

We order drinks and, on requesting a G&T, I am offered a ‘special’ version of the classic. I accept with such enthusiasm as to startle the waiter slightly. He clearly did not realise how pleased I am to be out. He does now. 

Talk turns to the Admiral’s ‘pet’ magpies, of which he now has seven. Such have their numbers grown that he is now ‘forced’ to buy lidl museli for them, as he cannot keep up enough leftovers for so many. 

Apparently, it is a delicate balance though. If he puts too much food out for the magpies, it attracts seagulls from miles around to descend upon the garden, frightening away his beloved magpies. 

Queen Vic helpfully chips in, “Seagulls are like the gyppos of the bird world aren’t they? It’s like when you put a fridge out, they come from miles around.”

I laugh hysterically. 

We finish our meal and the waiter offers us coffees. Again I am tangibly delighted by the suggestion, being out and all, and happily order my staple: a decaf cappuccino. 

The waiter returns only minutes later to advise that they have no decaf. 

It fails to dampen my spirits and I try for a dessert menu, which he is similarly unable to provide. Unperturbed, I cheerfully sip my water and await the bill. 

And what a bill it is!

£99 for a curry for four!

Might I take this moment to advise my southern readers that this is not an acceptable curry bill. Less than five miles outside of Birmingham as we are, one would expect a curry to cost around £40. 

That said, one would not usually expect to have two large glasses of Malbec with a curry, as the Admiral had managed. He was clearly also very pleased to be out, but hiding it a little better than I. 

After a cup of tea at the Admiral’s house, I swagger towards my new car and jump in. 

I notice that there is something spattered down the passenger side windows. I wonder if it is a new kind of foaming screen wash that I had not noticed the foam from. 

The Admiral and I take s closer look. It is not just on the windows. It is spattered down the whole passenger side of my brand-new-to-me-just-waxed car. Despite my CSI inclinations, I manage to stop myself short of tasting the offending spatter. However, a sniff test reveals that it is Chinese curry sauce. 

‘Well I never’ I think, politely. 

I pull my curry coated car onto the Admiral’s drive and spend a delightful 15 minutes washing it, before heading on my way, glad that I will soon no longer be out, and that the trials and tribulations of my day will be over. 

Being a lady, it could be expected that I might be prone to girlish behaviour. Taking fright at snakes and spiders and calling the AA to change tyres for me and the suchlike. Those who know me, however, will know that this is not the case. That I am the girl that catches spiders and releases them. And that once changed a tyre in the pouring rain for a hapless taxi driver. 

However, those that know me well also know that I do have one particular phobia. One thing that makes me react with such unreasonable and excessive hysteria and terror as to give the impression of a genuinely life threatening situation. 

As I drive down the dual carriageway, only five minutes from the Admiral’s house, I become aware that, upon washing my car on the Admiral’s drive, I neglected to shut the driver’s door and I am not alone. 

The daddy long legs flits along the windscreen and across my line of vision, attracted by the headlights. 

I perform an extremely safe and routinely executed emergency stop, throwing the car into the nearest space available to pull off the dual carriageway and exiting almost as the car comes screeching to a halt. 

I am in luck, there are some youths walking down the road and I commandeer them to assist me in my hour of need. They try to help me but, despite having all of the doors open and pacing the car frantically, trying not to put any part of my body in it, I cannot find the offending tipula paludosa and I release them from my aid. 

I spend a jittery five minutes trying to locate my enemy and consider calling the Admiral for assistance, or even English, maybe he could arrange an airstrike?

I eventually accept my reality. I cannot find DLL, it is not emergency worthy enough for an airstrike and I do need to get back in the car in order to get home. I drive home with the constant feeling that it is on me, itching all over and comforted only by singing along loudly to smooth fm. 

I arrive home, shave my head, burn my clothes and scrub myself all over with a wire brush, or ‘the catholic treatment’ as I like to call it, and vow never to leave the house again. 

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