Category Archives: Reflections

Game over

I can’t bear to continue watching Game of Thrones. In the months between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6, I might very well change my mind, but as Oliver Griffin comments in The Independenthttp://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/game-of-thrones-season-5-finale-seriously-what-is-the-point-any-more-10325106.html – what is the point?

Top image: http://bit.ly/1JXDrDo

GRR Martin (grr indeed) is a sadist. I am exhausted with tears unshed for the honourable characters (beginning with Ned Stark) who met gruesome ends. And horrible Joffrey had too easy a death. Some painful vomiting before conking out is no worse than a severe bout of food poisoning. I’ve been there. I felt like dying the last time I hurled my guts out. My spasms left me doubled up in agony for several hours. Joffrey was gone in minutes. Now, is that fair?

Image: http://dorkshelf.com/2014/05/12/game-of-thrones-episode-4-6-recap/

Jaime & Tyrion

I have no sympathy for Cersei. She can dry out in the dungeon for all I care. But I was hanging on for Jon Snow. And dear Sam. I’m still rooting for Tyrion, the Lannister who drew the short straw, and Jaime has become a bit of alright. Drogon the dragon? Absolute darling!

In Westeros, decency is such a rare commodity that the slightest display of kindness stands out. Of course, in the GoT world of psychopaths and sociopaths, this is a weakness likely to earn, not a reward, but an unpleasant death.

I got more satisfaction watching Jurassic World. It was rather predictable but the raptors were cute, and the human who deserved to be eaten got his just desserts, or rather the dinosaur did.

Image: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/jurassic-world-chris-pratt-raptors/

raptor

Okay, so it’s unreal but I try not to watch art movies because the story lines cut too close to the bone. If I want like-real tragedy and misery, I just catch the news. Life is hard enough. Give us justice and something to live for. GoT is full of fabulous characters and the story is riveting, but is it too much to ask for Ramsay to be castrated (slowly) and then given a lobotomy? For Sansa to find true love?

Gimme hope, GRR Martin, Gimme hope … (with apologies to Eddy Grant).

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Service without a smile

You can find anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant*…and Singapore’s Mustafa Centre.

A veritable Aladdin’s Cave of things edible, cosmetic and electronic, plus jewelry, pharmaceuticals, and more, Mustafa Centre is open 24/7. First-time visitors will be exhausted just checking out a fraction of the goods. At 2am, you can find insomniac families wandering around.

Store front image: http://bit.ly/1B0MEJz

Image: http://bit.ly/1QEWt1B

Mustafa accessories

Image: http://travel.cnn.com/singapore/shop/mustafa-370975

Mustafa greengrocer

Mustafa shoppers like the variety available – many items can’t be found anywhere else. Deciding on toothpaste or tea can be mind boggling. Take sweetener as an example. Choose from organic or non-organic sugar. Or Lion Date Syrup (800g, $8.50), Pure Harvest Rice Malt Syrup (500g, $6.50), Cecil Coconut Treacle (180ml, $2.50), not to mention Southeast-Asian palm sugar and neatly packaged jaggery (Indian palm sugar).

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aotw/3414141006

Mustafa chocs

Image: http://bit.ly/1eXU2vm

Mustafa electronics

The fact that I find Mustafa Centre irresistible despite the sucky service is a tribute to the store’s merchandisers. Perhaps service can take a back seat when the goods are the draw. That doesn’t seem right, but how else can I explain why I keep returning when service is at-best casual indifference?

Last week to my amazement, I ran into one staff who appeared keen to serve. Maybe he was a promoter in the health section. That’s how used I am to the usual dour faces.

It was 3pm on a Friday. I brought my basket to a cashier with no queue. Her expression could have curdled cream.  Sorry, I must have interrupted her reverie.

My worst experience was some years ago in the jewelry department where I waited 10 minutes for the woman behind the counter to fish out gold earrings – a gift for my then helper. I tried to get her attention by waving. I said, “Er, excuse me….” She pointedly ignored me as she leisurely pushed earrings onto a display board. I wouldn’t have minded if she’d just looked up and said, “Just a moment, let me finish this.”  Finally, when I wouldn’t go away, she snapped, “Yess!” in a whaddya-want tone.

I’m ranting. Enough.

Even vinegary countenances won’t keep me away. Other stores have something to learn from this.

*Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie’s musical monologue

Back to bare necessities

Last month, regular shoppers at the Salvation Army Family Thrift Store might have noticed an influx of non-matching picture-pretty tableware. I must have donated several basket-loads of bowls, plates, cups, platters etc collected over my 30+ years of producing recipe pages for the magazines I worked for.

crockery 2

It took 18 months into retirement before I was ready to part from what had been part of my working life. While some pieces were unused, other attractive old crocks brought back memories of photography sessions, of the cooks, and even of the food so artfully placed in them. Reminders of busy days and a different phase.

Top image: http://bit.ly/1KrRPlL

But it’s time to let go, and once I am recharged, I will go through the garden shed and hall cupboards where more props are stacked. More stuff will go to a friend who has a food blog and can use my carefully curated pieces from enamel to china to placemats. What I want is a good home for these much-loved items.

crockery 3

Minimalism has never been attractive to me. But there is just too much of everything. The clothes and shoes, all in good condition, were gladly received by neighbourbood helpers and will be put to good use in the Philippines and Myanmar. In the searing tropical heat, I just need to dress for comfort.

Now that I finally have time to explore my book collection, I am reading the books – some sent eons ago by book distributors for possible review. It’s read-and give away.  Each time, I can easily fill 3 of the National Library’s donation shelves. Eighty per cent of the last batch disappeared in 10 minutes.

I hope to only end up with an excess of beads and dogs. But the clearing will keep me busy for a long time yet as it’s hardly left a dent. Here are parts of a poem that can be a hoarder’s mantra. Titled The Cycle of Letting Go by Ryan Nicodemus, half of The Minimalists (http://www.theminimalists.com/), it captures the trap of possessions and the freedom from cutting loose.

I want it.
I own it.
I don’t use it.

It owns me.
It steals time from me.

I desire little.

I keep a little.
I am happier with little.

I miss little.

Northern exposure

In Singapore, having to drive longer than 20 minutes to get anywhere is considered as good as going to another country. For the longest time, Sembawang has been like the other side of the moon.

People who live elsewhere always exclaim, “so far!” That’s because for many years, Sembawang was only accessible by a couple of roads.

Top image: http://paul4innovating.com/2014/01/19/innovation-is-like-a-tropical-rainforest/

With just two bus services, no nearby MRT station where I live (near Sembawang Park which faces the Straits of Johor), no shopping mall, and with commuters carrying fishing and crabbing paraphernalia on the bus, we really seem to be the last bastion of ulu (countryside) Singapore.

But therein lies the charm. The bonus of living in what was once kampung (village) land is the lush landscape which includes edible plants growing wild. Just beyond my backyard are three majestic banyan trees, obviously many decades old as they were already ancient when I moved in 26 years ago.

Surrounding state land and forested areas are dotted with plants and trees like pandan, curry, banana, jackfruit, neem, papaya, belimbing, and even kangkong if you’re adventurous enough to wander a little off the beaten track. The rambutan trees have been felled but there are other goodies. These, and a quaint mosque, are the only remnants of Malay and Chinese kampungs.

Basong bus stop

Above: Waiting for the shuttle bus isn’t so bad when the view is so pleasant

Although land value has risen, it’s still comparatively low. Up to half a century ago, this sleepy part was distinguished only by its status as HMS Sembawang – His/Her Majesty’s Naval Base. Today, we remember our colonial heritage by the street names – Montreal, Canberra, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Auckland, Wellington, Falkland, Tasmania, King’s, Queen’s …  In Sembawang Park, there’s the century-old Beaulieu (pronounced Bew-lee) House, once a residence, now a seafood restaurant. A dog run has been added to the upgraded park, so the K9 crowd no longer have to go to Bishan.

Image: http://lionraw.com/2014/04/30/beaulieu-house/

sembawang beaulieu house

Image: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/go-fetch-new-dog-park-opens-sembawang

sembawang dog run

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen our verdant area transformed as developers parcelled off choice bits of land to build four-storeyed houses and apartment blocks. New and old owners in the mature estate have also been tearing down their single-storey houses to add floors of space.

Images: http://allpropertylaunches.sg/wak-hassan-bungalows-by-the-sea/

sembawang wak hassan bungalows

sembawang Wak-Hassan-Bungalows- 6m

Got $7-$9 million to spare? Resort living is yours.

The Sembawang HDB estate is also encroaching. Where once treetops met the sky, I can see concrete rising by the day as a new estate is born, with schools and all the attendant amenities.

It’s fine with me as my son will occupy one of those flats, and an injection of fresh life into our countryside estate is welcome. Already, I feel less distant from the rest of Singapore with new links to highways (Yishun Ave 8 to the TPE, Jalan Kayu and Sengkang) and an upcoming MRT station between Yishun and Sembawang.

My son was born a northerner whereas I lived all over Singapore and adapted gradually to what was once a rural part of the island. He fished, caught spiders, rescued critters (from abandoned bunnies to grass snakes), tramped through secondary forest collecting plants to bonsai, bicycled all over, and with his best friend, enjoyed a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn childhood.

For me, highlights are birdsong and the kind of silence that leaves a ringing in your ears. At first, I thought I had tinnitus. Mosquitoes are a blight but a natural part of living on the ground surrounded by greens.

It’s a privilege to be country folk.

Beads and pieces in the slow lane

Retirement has been both unsettling and wonderful. I stopped work at the end of 2013 and in the blink of an eye, it’s almost mid 2015! At first, I felt displaced. After 40 years of dashing to and from work, and being switched on even on public holidays, it felt discomfiting not having an office to head to. My days were no longer organized into blocks of time.

But hey, after the first few months, I couldn’t believe the joy and freedom of not having my life sucked dry by deadlines, meetings, appraisals and the politicking inherent in any organization with power-hungry individuals. Trying not to fall in step with the brown-nosers and sociopaths had been exhausting. As much as I enjoyed my editorial work, I realized what I missed most was a regular paycheck and bonuses.

Top image: http://scoutfitters.org/trip/sunset-hike-to-mugu-peak-915/

Once I got into the rhythm of the perpetual weekend, I fell into a beading-and-reading frenzy, rediscovered radio and caught up with friends over lunch, tea and dinner. Bored? Never!

Image: http://bit.ly/1GTGMB5

blog rush hour

But too much jollity led to total neglect of my blog. My reasoning: Blogs are nothing more than personal diaries. Non jetsetting bloggers like myself who don’t post photos of their gorgeous selves, are probably floating in darkest cyberspace. Really, who cares what we’re up to?

While it’s a convenient argument, I realize that writing helps me organize my thoughts for functional sharing. Of course, I would rather be flotsam but I need the discipline.  Even if some bloggers only occasionally encounter life forms in the blue void, and hardly anyone likes or follows us, we should still be guided by the blogger’s code of conduct – http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/04/draft-bloggers-code-of-conduct.html

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This all sounds very altruistic but the truth is, I’m popping up for a gulp of air simply because of RSI. Yes, intensive beading has led to repetitive strain injury. It is not the needle hand that’s hurting, but the holding hand (my left). Whatever you do for hours – move the mouse, play the guitar, craftwork – remember to stop and flick/flex fingers, stretch arms and get the blood circulating. Keeping your hand in the same position for long periods will result in tendonitis, swelling, inflammation etc. Very unpleasant.

While I rest my hand, let me encourage you to indulge in creative activity. An obsession with (in my case) bead weaving has left me with no time to be lonely, depressed, or inclined to engage in risky pursuits. Other benefits:

From start to end

When I make one earring, I will push myself to finish the other side, usually on the same day. If it’s something more complicated like a necklace or dreamcatcher, I might take days or weeks, but with so much time already invested, the discipline to complete what I’ve begun is a sure thing.

earrings_sherbet Apr 2015necklace_earth Apr 2015Dream Catcher_Doug_11.9.14

A good workman

The crafty too must look after our tools and have materials at the ready. You’ll soon lose the mood to do anything if you’re running around searching for bits and bobs.

blog bead box 1

Constant learning

There’s always something new to learn, or technique to perfect. And with every step, patience is required. When I attended pottery classes, some students just wanted to throw pots and get them fired. The working of the clay bored them, but sloppy kneading and not slapping out air pockets might result in pots cracking in the kiln. The same persistence applies whether you’re trying tubular peyote stitching or breadmaking.

Stop and check

Even now I sometimes find myself speeding along to finish, and then discovering an unwelcome thread, or something awry when I’m all knotted and done. It means snipping off the offending section and fixing the mistake. Or living with it – and being forever irritated. If everyone did this at work, i.e. spot-check and backtrack, more errors would be caught before they snowball into something too difficult to fix.

Awareness

When you get interested in something, you will suddenly notice everything connected with it. Or even indirectly connected. Beading has made me more observant and appreciative of colours of fabrics, the ocean, sunrise, sunset, nature, tableware, art… It’s opened my eyes to the beauty around me and to the far superior skills of other crafters.

blog quilt

Sharing

After you make a whole lot of stuff, you’ll either want to sell, or make gifts of them. The trouble is not knowing whether the recipients are too polite to tell you to keep your handiwork. Hence, it would be best to set up a table at an event and sell my beadwork for money which can go to an animal shelter. But an introvert like me is not likely to face the public, so someone else will have to actualize my do-good idea.

bracelets_ocean 2014

Planning

It might sound odd, but having a hobby keeps me in touch with my mortality. It means prepping for the eventuality that I’ll leave behind a pile of beads from stones and quartzes to glass, acrylic and delica plus findings, tools, wire, threads and so on. What is my son to do with these? To cart them all to the Salvation Army would be a waste, so I shall have to find a worthy donee. It certainly bears thinking about.

blog bead boardblog Miyuki 2

Happy fatigue

The world stands still when you’re immersed in something. It’s like meditating. I’ve spent happy hours beading into the pre-dawn while catching up on cable TV shows. I concur with British writer, Jeanette Winterson who eloquently explains why having an interest outside yourself is good for the soul:

When you love something like reading – or drawing or music or nature – it surrounds you with a sense of connection to something great. If you are lucky enough to know this, then your search for meaning involves whatever that Something is. It’s an alchemical blend of affinity and focus that takes us to a place within that feels as close as we ever get to “home.” It’s like pulling into our own train station after a long trip – joy, relief, a pleasant exhaustion.

blog cottage

REFLECTIONS – Older and Wiser

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Ageing is nothing to look forward to. The best part of it is a gradual release of responsibilities as you no longer have to prove anything beyond being able to walk and eat independently. In fact, ageing can be downright depressing as all the hormones that kept you racing and mating with the other rats slide to a low and you worry more about losing your mind and mobility than losing your hair.

Would it be better to die in early middle-age like many humans did a few centuries ago? Of course not, because we’re discovering more ways to stay fit and enjoy the extra years. With longer life expectancies though come problems for caregivers ie family, so we should be thinking of how to make it easy on them – considerations most of us shove aside because they’re so unpleasant to discuss.

Hwee Hwee Laurence ponders the topic –

Spring is here.  The daffodils, peach and plum trees are in bloom and we have spotted geese and cranes flying north.

Every year, during March, my elder son and I celebrate our birthdays and despite the fact that I am getting older each time, the arrival of spring always makes me feel young and I look forward to the newness of this part of the seasonal cycle.  This spring, however, I feel somewhat older.  Older because my husband and I have a new responsibility.  We are at a point where we have to take care of both our still-young children as well as our aging parents.

My father-in-law has recently been diagnosed with having a blocked vessel in the brain as well as the beginnings of Alzheimer’s.  Because he is quite a character (I shall not go into that), it took us some time before we realized that something was really wrong.  And because of his character, it has been difficult coming up with an appropriate solution that is best for his well-being.

I, being the ever-efficient and practical type, have been angry and frustrated by his stubbornness and seeming ungratefulness for what we are doing for him.  And then a good friend taught me this lesson.  She said that first, it is never pleasant or easy for a person to get old and come to a stage where he has to ask for help, and second, different people ask for help in different ways.

And it is true.  Our parents have not only brought us up, many of them (in Singapore) have also helped bring our children up.  It must be difficult for them for them to metamorphose from being care-givers to having to be cared for.  And just like children, aged people express themselves and do different things to get attention and help.

For young people, we must remember that when we look at an elderly person, we should see beyond the shell that he is and recognize that he has lived a (probably more) colourful and challenging life than us.  We should not to be dismissive of his needs, disdainful of his abilities or indifferent to his contributions.  And we should respect his wisdom and his rights.

For older people who are still autonomous and clear-minded (the ‘silver generation’) Marie Murray, a clinical psychologist and columnist of The Irish Times has this advice –  it is during this time that plans should be made to cater for future decline in physical and mental abilities.  These include learning email or internet skills so that there will be no deprivation of communication or information, planning maintenance-free homes or discussing with children about living arrangements, getting good legal advice about wills and decisions about whom to trust with power of attorney etc.

Planning for the future liberates the present, and this is most true for the silver generation who now has the time, financial, physical and mental abilities to live life up to the fullest.

REFLECTIONS – Mary, Mary quite extraordinary

What would you do if you saw the Virgin Mary?

I would seek medical help.

David Guterson’s book Our Lady of the Forest (Bloomsbury) brings the phenomena of Marion sightings to life, not in some misty, ethereal way, but in today’s chaotic, skeptical world.

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Would the Virgin Mary appear to an asthmatic 16-year-old non-Catholic mushroom picker sheltering in a campsite? This darkly funny story of losers in a fading town is as mesmerizing as Ann Holmes’ visions. When word of Ann’s forest encounter leaks over the internet, the community of faithful descend in hordes to share in the miracle while the investigating priest is convinced the girl is hallucinating.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the visitations are real or imagined.  Whether balderdash or God working in mysterious ways, it makes you think about where you stand, and that theology and evidence go out the window when pitted against faith and hope. But surely, that can’t be bad when it brings solace and comfort – something to ponder on Christmas day.

REFLECTIONS – All I Want For Christmas Is A New Right Breast

Hwee Hwee Laurence has a wish –

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On 10 December 2013, Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the company Poly Implant Prothèses (PIP) that made defective breast implants not conforming to medical standards, was judged in court in Marseille.  He was condemned to four years’ imprisonment, fined 75 000 Euros and not allowed to work anymore in medical-related fields.

I suspect I was one of the last people implanted with a PIP because just two months after having the mastectomy operation, I received a letter from the hospital informing me of this.  The ‘re-shock’ was almost too much to bear.  And of course, over the following months, the hullabaloo over this scandal was reported almost daily in the news and it certainly was not good for the morale especially when one was undergoing chemotherapy.

You might ask – why did I have an implant in the first place?  Am I so vain about keeping my breasts?  Or did my husband want me to have an implant?  The answers are ‘No’.  I never wanted an implant or any breast reconstruction.  My husband’s only aim was that I get well, and if he ever mentioned the possibility of an implant, it was because he was concerned that I might be psychologically ‘disturbed’ by my asymmetry.

I had an implant because every one of the doctors I met related to my cancer strongly advised that I should.  At that time, I had the impression that feminity is an important aspect for French women since at first,  nobody could believe that I really did not want an implant.  ‘You are still young!’ they said.

So why did I give in?  I did so because I did not know otherwise.  I had never had cancer or a mastectomy, never knew what it would be like to be flat on one side nor what it would feel like to have an implant.  In the end, shouldn’t doctors know best?  Which is why I wished that, because they knew better than me, they had fought harder to stop using PIP implants once problems started, not continued to do so until the last few months before ‘higher authorities’ decided against it.

I have been advised to remove, no – to change – the implant.  So far, I have not plucked up the resolve to go for another operation.  Also, I have been considering not having a new implant.  But then, I am now so used to having it that I am scared to have to readjust to being asymmetrical.

The one thing I have learnt from all this is – let’s not cry over spilt milk (or silicone – ha ha!).  I could have regretted listening to the doctors, but then without an implant I could have hated my lopsided body, too.  I can continue to rave and rant at Monsieur Mas but what good would that do to my health?  Better to just let go and get on with life.

My annual check-up is coming up soon and I will have to make a decision by then.  So maybe – a new right breast would be what I will be getting this Christmas.

REFLECTIONS – The dear departed

My husband is contemplating sitting with a friend who waits alone in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, keeping vigil by his wife’s bedside. She has slipped into unconsciousness and he knows this is all the earthly time he has left with her. She appeared to have beaten the cervical cancer which troubled her a few years ago, but fell ill recently. Her deterioration was so rapid that the medical staff prepared him for the worst.

As the year rolls to a close, my thoughts turn to the many dear ones I miss. Besides my mother and favourite aunt, there was the friend who passed on just two months ago. Fortunately, we managed to visit and spend an afternoon with him when he was still able to entertain visitors, albeit with his oxygen tank (he had emphysema).

One of my regrets will always be not making it to Belfast where Sister Finbarr retired. She was the Irish Principal of the convent school (Katong Convent) I attended and I was too callow to realise how fond I was of her until long after she had left Singapore. I remember being summoned to her little office because she found my reading report (we were encouraged to maintain reading lists) unbelievably long.

Quaking, I would give her a synopsis of any book she picked from my list. After a couple of visits, we became quite pally as it dawned on her I was devouring my way through the children’s section of the National Library. Very astute, she must have noticed that I was too timid to make things up, so she would pat me on the head and send me on my way. Henceforth, for a painfully shy child, I felt quite chuffed to have her call me by name every time I was in her line of vision. But, more importantly, close proximity allowed a glimpse of the kindness and concern behind the steely blue eyes and stern demeanour.

Someone else I regret not making time for was my best friend in my first two years of school. Her name was Mary Ng and she was too good for this world, and probably too good for me. We drifted apart as we grew up and while I can’t remember why, I’m sure we would have stayed firm friends if I had made an effort. When we were 16, Mary died from something related to her asthma problem. Again, it took years for me to feel the loss.

However, not to end on a sad note, death while wrenching for the ones left behind, reminds us to be mindful of life. As the fellow with the scythe can haul any of us off at his convenience, I am going to try to keep contact with the people I’m fond of – a colossal task for someone about as sociable as a tarsier. Let me ponder whether I even want to join Facebook. Nope! But there’s always the phone and old-fashioned email.

REFLECTIONS – One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

As someone who loves to rummage through bins of stuff at Cash Converters and community fairs, I can relate to the thrill of finding something precious for a pittance, never mind if I don’t really need it. It just might come in useful! So, I totally relate to Hwee Hwee Laurence’s love of vide greniers.

She explains:Image

Vide greniers in French literally means ‘empty (your) attics’ and is the English equivalent of car-boot sales and the American equivalent of yard sales.

Vide greniers are held all over towns and villages of France during the late-spring and summer months.  To sell your stuff, you simply pay a small fee for a stall and then lug whatever you want to get rid of there and hope that someone will find your discards the most useful and beautiful things in the world.  Do not be ashamed of that pair of shoes that has gone through three owners or that spare toilet seat cover that has been sitting in your garage for years.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  You’ll be surprised what is bought and sold at vide greniers.

I love vide greniers.  I think it is one of the most enjoyable ways of recycling.  I live with two growing kids and four changing seasons, which means that lots of clothes get quickly outgrown but barely worn.  I have no time, disposition or money to trail around shops (and there aren’t many around here, anyway) to find new clothes for my children.  So, the solution is to sell their old clothes at vide greniers to mothers whose children are younger than mine and buy from mothers whose children are older. 

One year, when my kids have outgrown all their baby stuff, I cleared the whole attic and sold their pram, playpen, car-seat, baby bathtub, security gate, toys and clothes.  It was such a pleasure to see pregnant mothers buying them eagerly at prices they could afford and knowing that the little ones in the tummies will be well-equipped when they are born.  And of course, it felt good when I came home to a clean and clear attic.

Having a stall at vide greniers, especially one organized by your own village, is more than just selling things.  It is a whole day-at-the-park with your friends and neighbours.  We go around admiring (or buying) one another’s things; we share biscuits, sandwiches and coffee flavoured with a generous dose of gossip.  And we pitch the wonderful qualities of one other’s stuff to potential clients.  Children also help man the stalls, selling their old books and toys, then rushing off with their money to buy new-old toys.  Being the practical type, I usually don’t have many unwanted things to sell, but my old batik or summery dresses and skirts from Singapore are always a best-seller.

In return, I buy practically everything that I (and the family) need at vide greniers.  I buy all our clothes there, and although you cannot try them on, once you know the brands and their sizings, you can’t really go wrong.  At first it feels a bit embarrassing to see people seeing you buying old clothes, but then everyone is so natural about it that you lose your shyness in no time, and after all, there are some very nice clothes to be found.  Just be sure to check that the zippers work and that there are no tears or stains.  And even if you do come back with something you cannot wear or does not totally suit your figure or colouring, there’s really very little regret when it’s only 1 or 2 Euros.  And of course, you can always try to sell them at the next vide grenier!

My husband and I think that old things are better made and last longer than new things of today.  He looks out for old gardening and building tools and I buy antique lamps and fixtures for the house.  I have also stocked my whole kitchen and the dining buffet with things from vide greniers.  Sets of cookware (my favourite are cast iron pots eg. Le Creuset), plates, cutlery, cups, glasses, teapots, serving ware – mainly branded fine porcelain but at ridiculous prices.  And I love looking out for special cake-stands and dishes with pedestals.

Once, I bought a set of six green Italian drinking glasses from a vide grenier, and a few weeks later at another vide grenier, found their ‘mother’ – a serving jug in the same style and colour.  That’s how exciting it can be.  And I think those long-dead old ladies would be glad that someone is still cooking and serving lovingly with their crockery.

Our kids, too, buy and sell their toys and books at vide greniers.  We teach them how to set a reasonable price for their things, how to give and take a little at sales, and most of all, how to consider what is worth or not worth buying and to bargain with other sellers.  I think it’s a good way of teaching them how to handle money responsibly.

Have I ever bought any useless trinket that I have never used?  Well, only once.  It is a metal sculpture of a flower whose petals can be individually removed.  Other than a table decoration, I really don’t know what it is for.  My kids suggested that the petals, turned upside down, can be used as little sauce dishes.  But it looked so beautiful and unusual, so what the heck – at 2 Euros, I gave in to temptation.

Each time I have visitors from overseas, if it is summer, I make sure that they spend at least one Sunday here.  I search out the vide greniers in the surrounding areas, and we always spend a most exciting and satisfying time there.  It easily becomes one of their most authentic French experiences as well as a highlight of their trip.

So, the next time you are in France, check out this useful website http://vide-greniers.org/ , plan your itinerary and you will surely take home some souvenirs and good memories of your French holiday.