Thursday, April 22, 2010

One very brave and inspirational woman

I am sitting here wondering how to write what I want to write next without seeming trite or cliched. There is no easy way to do it.
A great friend of mine has just found out, after four years of valiantly battling against cancer, that she is losing her fight. The doctors cannot do anymore, despite yet another round of radical chemotherapy and radiotherapy,and the outlook is bleak short of a miracle.
L is a woman who has packed more into her half century than many do in a lifetime, a true party animal who doesn't actually drink but still has the best time, entertains and is a dynamic mother of four. On her 50th birthday, she invited her closest girlfriends over for lunch. We arrived to be greeted by semi-naked male models in bow ties and not much else wandering around with trays of champagne. Then the belly dancers arrived and we all had to get over ourselves and join in for an impromptu dance class, followed by more champagne, stupendous fish pie, and a long, unusual and utterly memorable afternoon full of laughter which ended only when we all reluctantly headed off for the school run. It was one of the most stylish, fun and hysterical lunches I have ever had the pleasure of being invited to, and it summed up the hostess perfectly.
Over the last two years, we have seen each other intermittently, always planning a weekend down here which somehow hasn't happened, due to treatment, house renovations and other irritations which always seem to get in the way. And even during her bleakest, most desperate times, L has still somehow found the time and energy to send a lovely long thoughtful message asking how life is, full of funny anecdotes about her hugely talented kids (who could out-perform the cast of Glee) and generally make you feel she is thinking of you.
She refused to miss my 40th birthday party even though she had only just been diagnosed and had started treatment a few short weeks before, and came along to dinner full of humour and life, entertaining my old school friends who had no idea of what she was going through. None of this can do her justice kind of have to know her to appreciate her but I hope this gets across a tiny little smidgeon of just how special she is.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Malaysian moments

It’s been an eventful Easter. First stop was Kuala Lumpur to meet Elle Macpherson and watch the filming of the final shows of Britain’s Next Top Model which returns this summer. I’ve flown with some great airlines before but Emirates really does put them all to shame. Amazing food, huge great personal TV screens which start the moment you get on the plane rather than half an hour into the flight, cabin crew that speak 12 different languages, and that was just in economy. It made BA look like Ryanair.

The downside was that they managed to leave top PR supremo Justin’s luggage in Dubai, meaning that after 24 hours travelling he had nothing when we arrived in KL and given that we had a royal gala reception with loads of foreign dignitaries the next day, it was not a great situation. He was calm under pressure (I would have been catatonic without my clothes and products) and his case finally turned up the next morning.

Kuala Lumpur is like any big city, quite American in feel with five star hotels, designer stores and malls in the centre but ten minutes drive from our hotel, we were in lush tropical countryside with jungle foliage and stunning views everywhere you looked. The people are fantastically friendly and hospitable. One of the highlights was meeting Jimmy Choo, who as well as designing shoes and couture also acts as Malaysia's ambassador for tourism. I managed to tell him how much I loved his shoes, no points for originality there, but sadly reader, he did not offer me a pair gratis.

The food was another plus. Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Indian and Thai food compete with Malay cuisine and although I draw the line at nasi goreng for breakfast, it was lovely to have such choice after two years of living in France and having to search really hard for good Eastern fare. Weirdly, they all stop serving at about 10pm which meant dragging our jet lagged bodies out early and going to bed just when you felt full of beans.

The best bit though was Dr Fish. Marty the producer told us about the spas you go to where hundreds of tiny fish nibble your feet in a lagoon (see above, if you can bear it.) It sounded mental so with all nine interviews done, we rushed off to try it before our flight home. If you are squeamish about feet, stop reading now. If not, here’s the deal. You sit at the waters’ edge and dangle your feet in the water and shoals of fish dive onto your feet and literally start nibbling at them, eating the hard skin with relish! My poor runners feet are not the prettiest (so glad I didn’t show them to Jimmy, although I was sorely tempted) but these fish were obviously peckish and not too fussy. I was yelping and giggling so hard that a Malaysian family started filming me with their camera. Their little girl kept asking, ‘Why you laughing lady?’ like it was the most normal thing in the world to be the main course for Malaysia’s marine life. Just make sure you don’t order whitebait afterwards!

Four days in, and it was time to come back. After the luggage debacle I decided to try my luck at the airport and tell the staff how disappointed we were with our outward journey. Bingo, Justin and I were upgraded...thank you Emirates! Suffice it to say that a flat bed, plasma TV screen half the size of my one at home and selection of over 100 movies made for a very pleasurable first leg, although by the time I reached Nice, 24 hours later, I was fit to drop.

The weather here has finally decided to cheer up so once i got back, we headed to Mandelieu for a few days by the beach. The girls have had all their UK friends over which means peace and quiet, uninterrupted conversations, a glass or two of rose with picnic lunches and the odd game of beach volleyball. Bliss. Really feels like I have had a holiday.

Have also been running in the Esterel every morning and there is no better start to the day than looking across the bay of Cannes towards the Isles de Lerins. The dogs have had loads of exercise although poor Oscar doesn’t know what’s hit him. This is a dog who rolls his eyes, sighs loudly and then pretends to be asleep whenever he hears the word walkies. He puffed like a steam train the first two mornings but by yesterday, I didn’t have to wait for him to have a breather and he now looks like he has lost a pound or two (which will offset all the sneaky treats the kids have been feeding him under the table.)

Iain had to leave early to go to a trade fair in Frankfurt but spent longer there than planned when the volcano stopped flights. He ended up spending 14 hours travelling back yesterday by train via Switzerland and Italy to get home. Had a flurry of texts all day as he kept me posted on how hungry/thirsty/fed up he was, making me feel quite guilty as I poured my first glass of wine and tucked into moelleux chocolat! But he wasn’t as stuffed as N and T, who had to hire a car, drive to Calais and get the ferry, picking up a friend en route who couldn’t get on board as a foot passenger, finally arriving home 30 hours late and £2,000 worse off!

Meanwhile M & F have decided to wait it out as their flight tomorrow morning is cancelled. It’s either hire a car, book the train – one way at £1500 for the family - or take your chances on flights being rescheduled next week and enjoy a bit longer in the warm sunshine. It does feel wrong that while the blitz spirit prevails among thousands of stranded travellers, hotels and transport companies are hiking their prices to capitalise on everyone else’s misery. For once, I’m so glad not to be travelling.....