Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oh we love a good Grimaldi wedding

I am greatly cheered by the prospect of another Big Fat Royal Wedding, the marriage of His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco and the statuesque former swimmer Charlene Wittstock.
Everything about the Grimaldis is high drama, fashion and controversy.
Charlene Wittstock, Prince Albert & Princess Stephanie
Why, just a few days ago the bride attempted to do a runner, with a one-way ticket to her homeland of South Africa, after apparently learning about a new indiscretion by her fiance, who already has two illegitimate children.
The palace was even forced to deny this has happened (which means it must have), and Charlene was duly paraded through the streets withj Albert keeping a tight grip on her arm.
We are told she was "persuaded to stay," although the confiscation of her passport may have  had something to do with it.

Monaco is a tiny place noted for tax exiles and described as "a sunny place for shady people" by W Somerset Maugham. But its high profile royals assure the principality of acres of column inches.
My favourite, you will recall, is Princess Stephanie, now 45. She married a former bodyguard but they divorced not long afterwards. She then had another baby and the father has never been revealed (but is believed to be another bodyguard). She has been a gymnast, a swimmingwear designer and a popstar, and has dated, excitingly, acrobats and lion tamers.
It seems she is often at odds with her elder sister Princess Caroline because they're often not pictured together. Let's hope there is an entente cordiale for tomorrow.
I wonder if Caroline's husband, Prince Ernst of Hanover, aka "the fighting prince," will be there? It is rumoured that he and Caroline are more or less separated. Caroline has three wonderfully attractive children. Her eldest daughter very closely resembles the younger Caroline.
The British royal family will be represented by the rather D list Prince Edward and Sophie, although Sophie could surprise us. She has a personal trainer and is experimenting with fashion, so we could be in for a Princess Beatrice style makeover.

The Monaco royal wedding is a two-day affair, tomorrow and Saturday. Can't wait!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thyme and history

We've just got back from our annual holiday in Greece. We went to the island of Kefalonia, the biggest of the Ionians.

On arrival I was surprised at how modern and prosperous the island looked. I had forgotten to swot up from my book of Greek islands and didn't know the island had suffered a terrible earthquake in 1953 which destroyed 90% of the buildings. So it lacks the little white houses of Greece, but strewn around the hillside you can see the ruined buildings.

It's a very lush and green island, heavy with the smells of thyme and rosemary which grow everywhere.

Our base was the beautiful hotel Regina Dell Acqua in Skala, built on a hill with a stunning infinity pool.

We learnt a lot of the history of Kefalonia when we took the ferry to nearby Ithaca, the smallest Ioanian island. Odysseus is believed to have very strong links with both places and we saw a bust of him in the square of Stavros village. There we also sampled the Ithacan speciality, rovani, a sticky honey cake. We learnt the origin of the phrase "beware of Greeks bearing gifts." When Oddyseus built the wooden horse to reclaim Helen of Troy, it was assumed to be a gift from a defeated army. The "victors" went off to celebrate, the horse opened and out ran Odysseus and his top soldiers who overran the Greeks and claimed victory after a 10 year war. 

On an outing to the capital of Kefalonia, Argostoli, we happened to be there for a ceremony to mark the Special Olympics which take place in Athens in July. With a great deal of fanfare athletes ran by, a torch burned and Kefalonian dancers entertained us.

Our return home unfortunately coincided with the Greek national strike. The tiny island airport had queues of people snaking around the building. The problem appeared to be that all the check-in PCs were down. I'm not sure if this was strike related. The pilot referred to it as a "bit of a kerfuffle" at the airport. It was an amazing achievement that everyone was checked in manually, laboriously, with hand written boarding passes.

All in all a fabulous holiday! I'll add some photos when Blogger gets over its picture problem - I have tried with two different browsers but no good.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eligible Royals: a shopping guide for Pippa Middleton

Sir Stelios
Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly known as Waity Katie) is no longer with her banker boyfriend, according to The Sunday Times. I hope the split wasn't too traumatic for her, given that she had the major disappointment this week of being beaten by Carol Vorderman to the title "Rear of the Year."

The tabloids and gossip mags will work themselves up into a frenzy over who should date the fragrant maid of honour.

No doubt we will be told that she fell for Prince Harry and it was only a matter of time before the banker (deemed a bit boring by the gossip mags) was history.

My own theory is that she looked round on royal wedding day at the assembled royals, minor and major, and the various monied chinless wonders, all fawning over her, and thought "I'll have what she's having." 

May I suggest she draws up a list of eligible bachelors, starting with royals. Prince Harry should top the list: it would be truly fairy tale (if not vaguely sinister) to have two Middletons married to the heirs. New fascinators all round, and a new trousseau from Royal Warrant holders Reiss.

Prince Albert of Monaco is due to marry in a month, but a determined attempt could see off the wide shouldered swimmer. Failing that, Caroline's son Andrea is extremely good looking, though may have a long wait before he becomes king.

Then there's Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, although as he's unlikely to become king unless disaster should befall his two sisters, so probably of less interest.

If heirs are a priority, may I present the Crown Prince of Jordan, Hussein bin Abdullah (pictured). And Jordan is so handy for Dubai with all that glittering duty free shopping! He's only 15 so Pippa may have to play the long game, but hey, anything her sister can do....

Finally, if she'd rather just marry for money, I suggest Arpad "Arki" Busson,  the playboy financier, who has an on and off relationship with Uma Thurman. Or perhaps Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou,  As an added bonus, he lives in Monaco, so Pippa could start socialising with the Grimaldis, particularly Caroline's very attractive children, and all those F1 drivers. Plus a private jet could come in handy, even if it is orange and based at Luton.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On my bicycle

I saw a 70s bike propped up against the wall yesterday. Memories came flooding back. When I was a kid, the Raleigh Chopper was the bike to have, although I preferred the dainty Raleigh Twenty (pictured). I didn't have a bike until I was about 10. It was my brother's cast-off, and he had had it second hand.
I was very excited to take my bike to the Cycling Proficiency Scheme, where first of all a friendly PC was going to check our bikes for roadworthiness. Unfortunately mine fell at the first hurdle! I came home in tears, and then something brilliant happened. My parents weren't very well off, and we did something unheard of: we went to Halford's and they bought me a new bike. It was a Tri-Ang Golden Arrow, not a bit cool, but I loved it anyway. I managed to pass the cycling proficiency.
The years went by, and bikes and me were not mutually compatible. I tend to want to get off when there's too much traffic around. And in London you're constantly afraid someone will steal it.
Anyway, in 1999 I went to live in Munich or a short period, and having a bike there was a must. I went to a specialist shop and bought a beautiful ladies' bike for 500 marks, which was quite a lot of money then.
I would cycle along the Isar and go to the Englischer Garten on Sundays, or down to my friend's house. It was idyllic.
The bike came back to the UK with me but hasn't had many sorties since. A lot of cycling goes on in nearby Epping Forest but you need a mountain bike for that.
On our cycling holiday
Five years ago J dragged me and his equally unwilling daughter on a cycling holiday: five days in Shropshire / Wales.
It was a revelation, cycling along unclassified roads in the countryside with hardly any traffic. In the evening we would arrive at a hotel, our bags having been sent on by road, and it was very rewarding to have a bath and big dinner after cycling for 30 miles.
How about you and bikes?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Alice's bucket list

Something extraordinary happened on Twitter last night. In between the tweets discussing The Apprentice, a tweet appeared saying that Alice, a 15 year old with terminal cancer, wanted to trend on Twitter: please re-tweet. I did - as did everyone else - because an hour or so later when I checked, #alicebucketlist was in the top 10 global hash tags.

Alice created her bucket list a few days ago: the things she wants to do before she dies. She wrote in her blog last night that she and her mum were overwhelmed by all the messages, and she had only started the blog for her friends and family, never expecting it would be seen by such a huge audience. She currently has over 2000 comments and her bucket list wishes will all be fulfilled, except the trip to Kenya which she can't do because she is too poorly now.

Her wishes aren't particularly grandiose like those in the film "The Bucket List" where Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman went round the world ticking off the items on theirs. She wants a picture with her dog Mabel; she wants someone to do her hair (if they can); she wants a purple iPAD, although her mum had told her not to post that one. She wants to go to Cadbury World and eat lots of chocolate. And she wants everyone to donate bone marrow.

If I'm ever tempted to complain or grumble I will think of Alice and her bucket list.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

How to do customer service - by Amazon

There was an article this week about the chap who's taken over as MD at ailing UK bookstore Waterstones. He was confident that reinvigorating the shops would send shock waves reverberating across Amazon. His assessment was that we're not brand loyal to Amazon.

I think his view is a little naive and misguided. Amazon have indeed built brand loyalty and in the good old-fashioned way, by being excellent at what they do and making it easy to do business with them.

I was astonished by their superb Kindle customer service this week.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new Kindle because my original model, the DX, looks a bit big and old-fashioned now (and doesn't fit in a handbag). Unfortunately it stopped working, so on Monday - note, a bank holiday - I contacted Amazon UK, or rather, they rang me. You enter your phone number on the website and ask for a call back. They rang immediately, and had all my details to hand. And, joy, it was a British call centre. A small thing to ask for, but it makes all the difference.

I was promised a replacement Kindle the next day and sent an email describing how to return the defective one. This included a link to DHL, so that I could arrange for them to collect it at a time convenient to me   and the pre-paid label to use.

The new Kindle arrived as promised the next day - and how many companies would send out a new gadget to replace an old one they haven't had back yet? They give you 30 days to return it and if you haven't, your credit card gets charged again.

DHL collected the defective one today, as arranged.

Amazing service. What could be easier?

I was soon up-and-running with the replacement because all the books I have bought (99!) are easily transferred between my Kindles and other devices.

So to get back to my opening paragraph, I will still pop into Waterstones occasionally. But I'll be "Waterstoning"  (a new verb) - ie, making notes of books that look interesting and then buying them from Amazon. I'm told Waterstones will launch their own e-reader but they have a very steep hill to climb to better either the Kindle or Amazon's customer service and number of e-books.
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