Category Archives: Angloville

Every parents’ worst nightmare

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We were totally blessed when both of Steve’s daughters had twins within three months of each other. Four babies – just like that (well, not for the mums, obviously).

And you know how you don’t care what sex they are (a boy and a girl, and two girls, since you ask), as long as they are happy and healthy? Well, one of them was not as healthy he first appeared. Little Kit (Rosie and Laurence’s boy) was only three months old when he started having fits and was very quickly hospitalised.

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Naturally, his parents were worried sick. Naturally, they both wanted to be in the ICU ward together when the doctors came round. A rota of friends and relatives took it in turns to look after his sister, Sky, and, naturally, I bagsied a chance, too.

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As did my youngest son, their Uncle Sam. He’d never looked after a baby – or even a small child – before, but he dropped everything and went up to London for his turn to be exhausted in a way he didn’t know was humanly possible. Did a fantastic job, too.

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Kit was diagnosed with Epilepsy and given medication that – when the right type and dosage was found – did the job. Phew. Crisis – not exactly over – but manageable.

In the months that followed, Kit had regular check ups. Although the dosage frequently needed changing in line with his increasing body weight, things were stable (-ish) for the family. There was even some suggestion that he might outgrow the condition as he reached the age of two.

And then, the last time we were in England, something new came out of one of those check ups.

They found a brain tumour.

Yup.

There it is. Every parents’ worst nightmare.

I remember getting the news whilst waiting in the car for Steve. He was organising getting the windows sorted on Georgie, and I stumbled up to him, told him the cold, bare facts, and burst into tears. Horrible, awful, scary.

Rosie and Laurence coped extraordinarily well considering the circumstances; there were no news reports that night of screaming maniacs disturbing the peace in Bromley. But they had to wait weeks for an appointment to see a specialist who could give them the info they needed and answer their questions.

The day before we left for our second journey, the meeting happened. We looked after Sky, and tried not to be anxious. But the news was good: the tumour was benign, it was in an easily accessible place, they could be pretty certain they’d cause no damage when they removed it, and it was highly likely that it was the reason for the seizures.

We offered to stay until after the op, but they said it could be several months away. We could always fly back when the time came.

So off we went. To France, then Belgium, Holland, and Germany, into eastern Europe, did two Anglovilles, had Dory to stay, moved on down into Slovakia, and then we got a phone call.

It was Monday 7th August, and they had just been told that Kit could be operated on that Thursday morning. It was too expensive for both of us to go home, and someone needed to stay with the van anyway. As I can’t drive Georgie, the logical person to stay was Steve.

So the next day, I flew Wizz Air to Luton. Which was certainly whizzy, if a bit crap in the comfort department. The air crew girls were incredibly nice and stunningly beautiful – I felt I’d gone back in time to the days of ‘Catch me if you can’.

And hadn’t Sky grown!

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I had a wonderful week with her – which went much more smoothly once I figured out that she didn’t actually sleep in her own bed. You can’t imagine the indignation from her when I first tried that (for indignation, read ‘screaming’). But once that was sorted, we settled into a nice routine and I got to be a very spoilt nana.

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And little Kit – who is incredible brave and a total sweetie – had his operation and it all went perfectly. Thank all the Gods.

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They didn’t remove the whole thing (which is best practice, apparently), so he may have to have a further op, sometime in the distant future. They have hinged a tiny piece of his skull so they can go back in again if they need to, with much less stress and trauma. How brilliant is that?

After the op, he was groggy, and in pain, and off his food, not surprisingly. He developed an impressive black eye, and his throat was sore from the anaesthetic. He is the most active child I have ever encountered, so his parents did an amazing job keeping him occupied whilst in bed and wired up to stuff.

He was discharged on Sunday 13th August. And look at him now.

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Awwww. Bless.

Next time I’ll catch up a bit more (been very off-grid) and tell you about the cities we’ve been visiting. But to keep you happy for now, here are my two new favourite road signs, spotted in Budapest (I loves me a good road sign).

And – while I’m doing silly photos – how about this leaflet for Haemorrhoids from a pharmacy in Zagreb, and the ice-cream that Steve just bought me.

Thanks for reading xxxxx.

 

 

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The Dory story

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ONCE UPON A TIME…

Steve’s daughter, Rosie, is one of those warm and lovely people that attract lots of other warm and lovely people. And then she looks after them all, so they stay in her life forever (my sister-in-law is the same, so I’m doubly blessed). This is Rosie with one of her twins, our granddaughter, Sky.

 

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When we were still living in Midford, we got a call from Rosie asking if we could help her friend Dory, who was stuck in Bristol with nowhere to stay. Of course we said yes, and Steve set off in the car to rescue said damsel in distress. An hour later, a whirlwind of a woman blew into our lives. No other way to describe it.

Dory is a fast-talking American lady. A one-time restauranteur in Munich, a stand-up comedienne, an eco-warrior and squatting-rights expert, and a million other things besides. She’d tidy and clean my house when I was at uni (thank you sooooo much), put garlic and ginger in my hot lemon drink (oh no, no, no), give Steve decaf coffee ’cause she thought he was drinking too much (Steve was surprisingly polite about this), and generally entertain us. This is Dory.

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She stayed for a few months and then we said a sad goodbye to her, as we said goodbye to England, trekking off in Georgie, fourteen months ago. And though she’d always be our friend now, too, we thought our time with her was over.

BUT THEN…

Earlier this year Dory’s texts started to cause me concern. She still had no permanent place to live, and was couch-surfing or being a live-in helper. Her health was suffering – she talked of kidney stones and an ulcer, of losing weight and hair. And she often sounded very down. I was worried.

When she’d lived with us she’d talked of a friend in Warsaw who was constantly on at her to come over. He said he could get her a job, no problem, everyone he’d recommended got snapped up and she was more qualified than any of them. So here was my thinking – we weren’t that far from Poland, we could detour that way. Give her a few weeks to recover herself and sort out what she wanted to do, put out some feelers, do some research. Try out some Helpx volunteer work, perhaps? Whatever. I just felt she needed a safe place to stay while she worked out her future.

So I did what I always do (just ask my family) – I interfered and nagged a lot, and I mean A LOT.

The biggest impediment to her joining us was lack of a passport, hers having been stolen many moons ago. So that was my first nag-athon. In the end, another mate of hers sorted it all out with her, and paid for it too. People can be so kind, don’t you think?

Once the passport issue was resolved, Rosie organised a JustGiving page to help fund her journey over to us. Some more lovely folks contributed, and I found cheap ways for her to travel. However, it meant a very long day to get to us as we were in Slovakia by then – about fourteen hours in total. Well done, Dory.

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We’d nearly finished at our first Angloville teaching course when Dory arrived. She slept for most of her first day, naturally, but then came and socialised with us all in the evening. She and the Blonde hit it off straight away and went off to annihilate the others at foosball. This was fine because Steve was having his chest stroked by the Voluptuous One, and I was just falling-down drunk, having played too much of ‘The Game’ unawares (see previous posts!).

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ANGLOVILLE 2

Three days later we were doing our second Angloville, in Poland. Dory had gone down with a bug, or was just incredibly over-tired, because she slept a lot that week too. This was fine because we were able to leave her undisturbed, but could still see her in our breaks and in the evening. She’d do helpful things like hide my onions. Don’t ask.

She got to meet some of the participants, and came and joined us on the last night again. This time she really connected with some of the people, and I could tell that even after such short acquaintance, she’d be keeping in touch with several of them, and them with her. I was delighted for her.

AND SO OFF WE WENT AGAIN…

To a nice campsite on the banks of the Danube, to make a PLAN.

Dory had seen how much fun we’d had with Angloville and wanted to try that for herself, and apparently there was one happening near Warsaw, very soon. Well, what a coincidence – Dory could check out that job her friend was always on about, go and do the course, then come back to her friend’s place after and take it from there. If the job was a go-er then she could hang on there, or come back to us (depending on the start date).

And what if she didn’t like the job, or it was no longer viable (said friend having been a bit incommunicado)? Well, she declared that she had other friends and family back in Houston, that wanted her to stay and could help her find work. So she’d go home. We could sort her a ticket from Warsaw. Bit pricey, but worth it to know she’d be all right.

Well, ok then. We agreed we’d hang around a bit nearby until she knew more about her future plans. We didn’t want to go too far out of reach, in case she ended up with nowhere to stay again. But we were booked to do an Angloville in Bucharest in a few weeks time, and it was a long drive, so we couldn’t hang on indefinitely.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THE BEST LAID PLANS…

I should have known it was all too easy.

For a start, she went to Warsaw on the coach, but it broke down. And so it took twelve hours without a loo break. Poor thing was so dehydrated and ill from the journey, she didn’t know which way was up, let alone be fit to sort out any job stuff.

So off she went to Angloville with all of us none the wiser as to the job in Warsaw. But, luckily, she was paired off with a fantastic woman from Krakow, henceforth to be known as The Angel, and they absolutely  clicked.

And here’s where it all got a bit muddled for me.

Dory said that she reckoned The Angel was going to offer her a job – she just had a feeling about it from things that had been said. And that she didn’t want to go back to the States.

Wait, what?

And actually, she’d been asked to help out on the next Angloville somewhere else, possibly Germany, she wasn’t sure. And she’d agreed.

Wait, what the actual fuck? You don’t know where it is, how you’ll get back, where you’ll go to next, and we can’t wait much longer. What about the PLAN?

PLAN is now FUCKED and I am panicking.

I have brought my completely broke friend over to Eastern Europe, and basically stranded her here with a load of strangers. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE SHE ACTUALLY IS! I feel so guilty I can barely sleep.

Dory is perfectly calm, which freaks me out even more. ‘Just chill, Bev, it’ll all work out. I’ve got a really good feeling about this.’

I vent to Rosie because I am now in full headless-chicken mode, ‘Help, help, I don’t know what to do!’ etc.

BUT OFF GOES DORY TO ANOTHER ANGLOVILLE…

And we have to start driving. We try not to go too far, and find a campsite at Jasow, near Kosice. This is on the way to Bucharest, but not so far along that we couldn’t hive off and go to Budapest, if necessary. It is the farthest I can face going at the moment. We make new friends. We explore the town and the monastery and the caves.

I try not to worry. She is a grown woman and I am probably being a bit over protective. It is her life, she can do what she wants. And when we talk she tells us to get driving, get on with our lives, not to worry about her (how is that possible?).

So, in the end, we do.

AND GUESS WHAT?

She was right and I was wrong. How effing brilliant is that. Because serendipity is alive and kicking in this story.

The Angel did set her up with a phone interview, to teach English at a Montessori school in Weiliczka, near Krakow in Poland. Which went really well. As did the second interview. So well, in fact, that the principal found her somewhere to live and paid for the first month’s rent for her. They’ll also organise some evening work for her too, teaching English to the parents, for extra money.

AND SO THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER…

And Dory has been Facebooking how happy she is, and how much she loves her new home. She is excited about her finally stable future and has made a shedload of friends through Angloville. There’s even a cat that visits her. So it’s all good.

And we are in Hungary, because we had to cancel our own Angloville in Bucharest. But that is another story.

NEXT TIME: Hurrying to London.

 

 

Angloville 2: My LOVELY wife

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(I’ve covered most of how Angloville runs in my previous blog, but as each one is different, here are the highlights.)

Although we totally failed to walk to Poland in my last Angloville (distracted, as we were, by cheap booze and haribo), we finally make it to southern Poland and it is beautiful. Loads of steep-roofed, four-storey houses covered in intricate patterns of timber and stone. I’m fairly certain that everyone has a cow in their front garden or, failing that, at least a couple of sheep. At dusk we see perfectly normal people wandering up the street carrying huge buckets and milking stools.

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As we drive to the hotel we pass a traditional wedding party, with everyone riding in beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriages, and wearing national costumes.

The cavalcade is led by two men on horseback, singing loudly in rich, tenor harmonies. They are followed by a six-piece band in a covered wagon: the musicians try desperately to keep their violins and cellos from bashing together, as the horses sway along the road.

Next are the happy couple in a white open-topped carriage pulled by four smart, white, horses bedecked with roses, ribbons and brasses. Although they smile and wave, both the bride and groom are terribly busy on their mobile phones.

Then come the wedding guests. The males sport camel-coloured, heavily embroidered suits, with trousers that split at the ankles and spread over their shoes, all topped off with black, round-brimmed hats and loose-sleeved shirts. The females have brilliantly flowered skirts, with matching shawls, and lace-up bodices.

The whole thing is joyously colourful and exceedingly relaxed. We stand and watch as the horses gently wander up the hill, and the strains of some unfamiliar folk song drifts back to us.

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Now, the co-ordinator needs a mention here – not just because he was brilliant at his job – but because he looked just like Ryan Gosling with a bit of Ryan Reynolds thrown in.

And his name was Ryan. I’m not even joking.

On the first day he took care to warn us about ‘The Game’ – the Polish participant’s habit of getting the native speakers as drunk as possible. We were allowed to miss a session if we were genuinely ill, but not if we’d played ‘The Game’. Fair do’s. Realised now that the Voluptuous One from the last Angloville had been giving that a good shot, just before she confronted Steve’s nipples.

THE FOOD – BETTER THAN LAST TIME?

Oh hell, yes, what a change! Each meal was an all-you-can-eat buffet with loads of choice, including two or three salads with every meal (even at breakfast). As we had a high percentage of vegetarians and vegans on the course, it was such a relief. The coffee was awful, which proves you can’t have everything, but I was one happy bunny.

ONE TO ONE’S

We had a much larger group, so it was harder to get to know everyone the way we had on our first experience, but they were just as lovely and hard-working.

Had a very interesting session with a lady who told me about a massive crush she’d developed on a much younger man (and what came of it), and another with a mother of three young children, who described them as ‘sweet little energy vampires’. Pretty good grasp of English, that.

I still had my work cut out for me though, especially with one chap. He was middle-aged, and quite tough looking. Not someone you’d think to mess with. Most of the week he was seen wandering around the hotel spa in a bathrobe, and the general consensus was that this was a cheap holiday for him and he wasn’t that bothered about learning English. My one to one with him was nearly over in ten minutes.

‘I answer all questions, what you want, is done.’

‘No, we still have forty minutes, so let’s just talk, ok?’

Shit. What are we going to talk about? But I persevered, and we discovered that if you look at his house on Google maps, you can see one of his hunting dogs. So, that was useful.

After each session, Ryan would give us a small form to fill in detailing what the participants strengths and weaknesses are, and what we think they need to work on. I looked at the paper for ages, and in the end I wrote:

Honestly, no idea. Think I may have spent an hour with a very charming ex-gangster.

OUR MENTEES

I met up with Steve later and told him about the lovely girl I was going to be mentoring: young, sweet, enthusiastic and funny, with some great pictures of a sky-diving day that she could build her presentation around. I asked who he’d been allocated?

‘The Gangster. And all he wants to talk about is what he kills when he goes hunting, and I keep telling him he can’t because of the vegetarians, so he buggers off to the spa.’ Nearly snorted my tea out of my nose.

THE LOCATION

We are perched on the top of a hill with a wonderful view of the mountains. At the end of the road is a beautiful church, a sweet little chapel, and a stunning cemetery. The church is famous for being linked to a major one in Prague and is a place of pilgrimage. The Sunday we were there it was absolutely packed, with people lining the grounds and path outside, all standing silently (even the children) to hear the service taking place inside.

The whole place was a forest of honey-coloured wood, each surface carved by hand. And the little chapel, with its separate bell-tower, was the same – even the lampshades were made from slats of fan-shaped wood.

But the cemetery – wow. They really like plastic flowers here, plus enough candle-lit lanterns to light a small city. Sounds tacky and it actually was, I suppose, but it was also joyous and celebratory and how I’d like my grave to look, (though a plastic Bambi and a hip-swivelling Hawaiian dancer better find its way in there too. Just saying.)

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PRESENTATIONS

We had some brilliant presentations that showed just how hard everyone had worked. My girl got us all laughing with her sky-diving story, and she looked so delighted: I was really proud of her. Last up was the Gangster, and none of us knew quite what to expect.

‘I am successful businessman but for weekends I go to my house in forest. I take my dogs – here is picture of my dogs. I take my children. I take my gun. And I take my LOVELY wife.’

He proceeded to describe looking for animals in the forest – to photograph them. This was Steve’s intervention, I knew. Each time he mentioned his wife as an afterthought, but with great emphasis. By the third time, he simply had to cup his hand around his ear and look expectantly at the audience who all chimed in unison, ‘my LOVELY wife’.

By the end of the story, he’d been confronted by a bear, saved his dogs, chased away the bear, ‘See, here is picture of bear from CCTV camera‘. Big gasp, not kidding, genuinely impressive. ‘And final, here is picture of my family. Here are dogs. Here are children. Here is car. Here is house. Oh, and here is….?’

‘MY LOVELY WIFE!’ we all yelled. Well done Gangster. Well done Steve.

THE AFTER PARTY

Well, we all played ‘The Game’ a bit. There was a lot of dancing. One lithe young lady was a hula-hooping yoga teacher, who’s sinuous moves looked almost impossible. One chap was a fantastic break-dancer. Another refused to take Steve’s reluctance to dance seriously, scooped him up in his arms, carried him to the dance floor, and plonked him down in the middle. It was a good night. Maybe a bit too good for some people as the next day, at the certificate ceremony, some of them could only lie on the floor clutching their heads and looking weepy and green.

And that was it. Another Angloville. Another country. Another wonderful set of people and experiences. We still had a van full of Dory and a shed-load of laundry, but it was time to move on.

In my next blog I’ll tell you the Dory story, and how we ended up in Slovakia again.

 

 

 

Angloville 1: the dumpling days

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WHAT’S AN ANGLOVILLE, WHEN IT’S AT HOME, I HEAR YOU ASK?

And I shall tell you, because I’m nice that way.

Angloville is a company that runs immersive courses in English, for people who have a goodish grasp of the language already but need to improve their confidence, fluency or pronunciation. So you spend several days with them, doing various exercises, but English is to be spoken at all times. Simples. And playing to my strengths, if I do say so myself.

We signed up for two weeks and trollied off to High Tatras, in Slovakia. We’d been offered a hotel room, which we’d decided to accept as our friend Dory would be turning up on Thursday, from the UK. She’d have Georgie all to herself, and get time to recover from her fairly strenuous travels, in peace.

HOTEL MONTFORT

What a place. What a view. The ‘chalet’ next door belonged to the President. Our room was great, the bed was comfortable, and the blinds were good and dark. We had a  balcony with a view of the Tatras (and foxes skipping over the lawn from the woods), and a pool, spa, and games room were downstairs. Well, colour me happy.

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DAY ONE – SUNDAY

At one pm, Steve and I were in the lobby as the bus pulled in. There were a lot of people as two groups were going to be running in tandem: an adult group and a kids group. We’d offered to do either, but they said that we were WAY TOO OLD to work with the kids – cut off age for volunteers was thirty-five. So that was us told.

We milled around and introduced ourselves to people. I actually felt a bit shy, but Steve was off like a Cuban Ambassador. Every time I turned around he was animatedly talking to another pretty woman. So, after a few fairly stilted conversations I went to join him, and was introduced to The Blonde.

‘Oh my God, this is crazy, right?’, she gushed, with a sexy accent, and at a speed that I didn’t realise was possible, especially in a second language. We may have got her entire life history in about twenty seconds, which was some achievement as a lot of the words were ‘fuck’. But she was fabulous, and I adored her, and we got on like a house on fire.

At lunch we were instructed to sit at mixed tables – two native speakers to two programme participants. This was a little strange for all newbies, so I’ve forgotten what we had for lunch. If only I could say the same about the rest of the food we were served there. Oh boy.

After lunch we were given an intro to the programme. As I walked into the room wearing my swanky lanyard (always wanted one of those) I was told that I’d already been requested as a mentor. Oh yes? By whom?

‘There’s my mentor,’ yelled The Blonde, with a dazzling smile, and actually jumped out of her seat as if I was George Clooney covered in chocolate. Steve got allocated Mr Muscles, a physiotherapist with a shy demeanour and a good sense of humour. A promising start, I thought. Bang on.

ONE-ON-ONES

A large part of the week was going to be fifty minutes conversation, on various topics, with a single individual. My first one was easy because I had Mrs Fit-and-Fabulous, and the topic was all ‘who are you/what do you do/why are you here/what do you hope to achieve?’ and then it was dinner time.

DAY TWO – MONDAY

MENTOR MEETINGS

The first exercise every morning was to spend 50 minutes tutoring our mentees. They were all required to give a presentation on the coming Thursday afternoon, and so the first order of business was to decide on a topic. It could be anything they liked.

The Blonde wanted to talk about what she’d learned in her life, (‘I was very stupid young girl, so fucking stupid, you know? But now I am smarter’) in the twin mediums of speed-talking and pop songs. Fine by me. We rehearsed Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fu-un, and Queen’s We Are The Champions. I taught her It’s Been A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles (‘who?’) and we found a way to squeeze in some Jessie J. This teaching lark rocked.

MORE WORK

The day’s schedule of one-on-ones and group activities gave us a break just after lunch, but then carried on until 7.30 in the evening. In the group work we had to imagine ourselves shipwrecked on a desert island, with only a specific selection of tools washed up on the beach to help us. Did we stay on the island or try to build a raft?

My group opted to leave, another group chose to start a new community, and The Blonde’s group decided to stay – but be very depressed about this. So much so that they called their patch of rock the ‘Island of kill yourself’, and it featured a particularly high cliff that was the designated ‘place for kill yourself’.

By dinner time everyone was starting to flag. Lunch had been a weird soup that genuinely looked like dishwater, followed by one chicken drumstick and a tea-cup of rice. None of your five-a-day fruit and veg here. (Unfortunately, we’d cleared out our fridge rather than have food go manky while we were in the hotel.) So we were all tired and hungry.

DINNER

On the table were small glasses of some pinkish fruit juice with half a dozen bits of tinned fruit cocktail dolloped in. The strawberries (?) were a mauve grey. I downed that in ten seconds and waited. Eventually my plate arrived and on it were five beige-coloured things the size of plums, sprinkled with – yes, it definitely was – icing sugar. I’ll say that again: my main course was sprinkled with icing sugar.

I cut open the beige thing to find, I don’t know – possibly rhubarb, or some kind of jam? I ate one. All I could manage. And that was it – meal over.

I looked over to the next table. One of the volunteers was a highly educated and intellectual guy who spoke five languages. He was also a vegetarian. ‘And I don’t eat desserts’, he told me, looking very hungry and rather dazed from the strains of the day.

And then I realised there was uproar all around me. The Blonde was absolutely appalled at the quality of the food. She was paying a great deal of her own money to do this course, and she was embarrassed that her country was showing itself in such a bad light to the native speakers.

And she wasn’t alone. Nearly everybody was complaining, especially the younger lads. Not enough protein was a big problem with regard to energy levels – especially for the young people who had a much more active course. The lack of fruit and veg was also causing it’s own difficulties. Meetings went on all night, and we were assured that something would be done about it. So Steve and I headed off to our room and ransacked the mini-bar.

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DAY THREE – TUESDAY

Food was the topic of the day. All day. Discussions were still raging and emails were flying back and forth to Angloville head office. Most of the participants had threatened to pull out, and demanded full refunds unless they were given decent food. We were volunteers, so didn’t have much in the way of bargaining power, but it seemed they were taking it seriously.

We each got a mail saying that from then on, the portions of meat would be increased from 130g to 150g per person. Well, be still my beating heart.

And there’d be fruit bowls.

And even sandwiches if we needed them (though we never saw those).

We were also encouraged to consider that the local cuisine would obviously be unfamiliar to us, and to give it a try before passing judgement. My judgement was that it seemed to be the locals that were the most pissed off about it.

At lunchtime, The Blonde and all the other participants who’d complained were segregated off into a private dining room. They had food from the very nice hotel menu, complete with wine and beer and anything they wanted. I’m not sure who was to blame for our obviously penny-pinching menu – the hotel, or the Company – and I don’t really care. People do their best, and sometimes they fuck up. That’s life. But the people with the pull got really good food that week.

We were still in the dining room, though, when they brought out bowls of fruit. We had to fight our way through a stampede of teenagers to grab a kiwi fruit and an unripe banana. The Intellectual was given a tuna salad. When he said – again – that he was a vegetarian, they exchanged the tuna for a bowl of iceberg lettuce with two olives – two! – and a piece of feta cheese the size of a Xmas postage stamp. Well, that was him sorted then.

DAY FOUR – WEDNESDAY

By now, we’d all adjusted to the routine and had started to make some good friendships. The food had been a little better and we were feeling much more rested. So we decided to walk to Poland. As you do. Apparently, it was not far away, possibly two or three miles, and some fresh air felt like a good idea.

However, just twenty metres from the bridge that formed the border, was a little shop. And in that little shop were all the essentials that the locals need, i.e. booze, and lots of it, major stocks of Haribo, some crisps, some fags, and a lot of products made from cannabis.

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Mrs Fit-and-Fabulous introduced us to the local tipple, which is a kind of brandy made from tea. I think Tetley’s are missing a trick because this stuff is lovely. And can be up to 72% proof. It’s called Tatratea and I’m drinking it now, as a matter of fact. If my spelling goes all to pot, that will be why.

So we never made it to Poland, but giggled and wove our way back to the hotel in time for another crappy lunch.

NEGOTIATIONS AND TELEPHONE SESSIONS

As part of the programme, there are several structured exercises that are likely to be the most useful to the participants. For Negotiations I was paired up with a rather voluptuous woman with a permanent smile and bedroom eyes. Ever so nice. She was given instructions to ask me for a raise, while I was instructed to offer incentives, and other bonuses instead. Thus the negotiations would ensue. The Voluptuous One kicked off.

‘I vant more money. You give me’.

Me – ‘Well I’m afraid I’m not authorised to offer more than another ten thousand. How do you feel about that?’

‘No!’

What? Where’s that smile gone?

‘I vant twenty thousand. You give me now’.

‘Er, how do you feel about more holidays and a bonus-scheme linked to performance, with a review in two years?’

‘NO!!!! I VANT MORE MONEY. YOU GIVE ME! I AM PERFECT’. You get the gist. This went on for some time, and then I fired her. The Voluptuous One said this was fine as she’d just go and work for our competitor across the road.

I fared no better in the Telephone Sessions. These are conversations held back-to-back, so that the participants get no clues from your facial expression. The scenario supplied was about a child being disciplined, by the school, for cheating on an exam. My job was to phone the parent and call them in to discuss the action to be taken.

Of course, I was paired with Supermum.

‘My child would never do such a thing, I can’t believe it, you must be wrong’. Puts the phone down.

So I really needed dinner to be good.

DINNER

And it was dumplings again!

This time there were more of them as we’d been promised bigger portions. And these were filled with poppy seeds, so a black sludge formed across your plate when you cut into them. Honestly, I couldn’t even manage one this time. So I cracked. I grabbed the proper menu and ordered some Bruschetta and got it stuck on our bill.

Steve saw me eating it and said to his neighbour, ‘Oh, my wife will share that with me‘. No, she bloody wouldn’t, get your own. Don’t know if he did. Don’t care.

DAY FIVE – THURSDAY

This was the day that everyone did their presentations. The Blonde and I had made masks which I would hold up at the appropriate moments in her story. I have it on tape, so if anybody wants to see how brilliant she was, and how I completely messed up by picking up the wrong ones, just ask. But I was very, very proud of her.

Steve’s chap, Mr Muscles, did a demonstration of physio on The Intellectual. He got a bit carried away by the interest of the audience, and kept showing more and more poses and holds. At one point he had his finger jabbed into a pressure point on The Intellectual’s neck, and was searching for the right English words to say that it allowed the muscle to loosen. However, he may have taken more time than was comfortable, because, after a while, The Intellectual’s eyes started to pop a bit and he kept saying ‘OW!’, louder and louder. The Voluptuous one – also a physiotherapist – kept moving her chair closer to the front, ready to intervene if necessary.

PARTY TIME

That night, everyone was in a great mood. My friend had arrived from the UK and was downstairs playing foosball with Mr Muscles and The Blonde.

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The Voluptuous One was steadily filling our glasses with wine, and having a nice chat with Steve about his recovery from his heart bypass, twenty years ago. At one point, she ripped his t-shirt up and ran her elegant fingers over his scar, checking out his levels of scar tissue, (so she said). Then she suddenly noticed his nipples had gone hard (the room was cold, ok?), and shrieked with laughter. I think it made her day. Might have made Steve’s too, I’m not enquiring too closely. Later on I tried to open Georgie with my car keys for nearly ten minutes.

DAY SIX – FRIDAY

On our last day we had a few one-to-one sessions, some feedback paperwork, and lots of sad goodbyes. It was a fabulous time and I count myself very privileged to have been there. These are just some of the guys who made it great.

The next day we drove back up into Poland for Angloville 2: My Lovely Wife. I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Thanks for reading xxxxx