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A wonderful day and now a wonderful momento thanks to Frances at Reellove Films

Click on the picture to view…that’s all I have to say about that i’m far too busy watching the film!

Isn’t it just typical, you return from holiday and rave about how good it was, the sights you saw, the food you ate, the weather you enjoyed or endured, the photos you took….which stay on the camera or in a nice new folder on your desktop marked ‘Holiday 2011’ or when ever it was.

Sometime later quite by accident on many occasions, you will revisit the folder or in my case, try to take another photograph and low and behold there’s no room on the data card. Having said that, what a delight to view pictures you had forgotten you took months later and relive the experience you had when the pictures were taken.

Last evening I came across some pictures I’d taken on my ‘Lets take MrsP2B on a guided tour of Alsace’, an area of France I had fallen in love with when I first visited the Region some 15 years ago and have been back almost every year.

Anyway the long and short of it is, I came across some lovely memories captured and thought I’d share them with you.

There were some photographic gems in the pretty village of Ribeauville, and this cart with what I presume are casks that were used to transport grapes had an earthy  appeal to it. I have aged it slighty and I think the effect does it justice. One of the other highlights of this village is the fabulous Caveau de l’Ami Fritz whose plat de jour was enough to feed a family of five for a week and was one of the best meals we had all week.

Kaysersberg is another must see, with its brightly painted timber houses, truly a sight to behold. Alsace is full of such villages and I never get tired of seeing them. However the attraction of Kaysersberg for me is making the steep walk up to the castle and looking down on the rooftops. It was pelting down with rain when we went and this just added to the colour.

 

Of course being Alsace wherever you venture you will never be  far  from vineyards. There are acres upon acres, row upon row of vines that cover the fields in a patchwork like pattern, simply stunning. There are the villages to visit. Incredible houses built from the wine making wealth of the Region. Some of the most beautiful churches can be found that are almost cathedral like for their works of art and fine carvings. It never ceases to amaze me that these often small villages can boast such incredibly stunning buildings with awesome art.

These are just a fraction of the 100’s of photos I took on our holiday and I really must get down to going through them all and updating my web site  or better still start planning another trip.

A woman dreamt one night the most vivid dream of her life, it was almost tangibly real – the sounds, the smells, the feelings, surely it had been real?

She dreamt that as she walked along the bank of the canal she saw a figure dressed in a  brown cloak. Whilst she didn’t recognise the cloaked figure, she did recognise the canal. It was the same canal as the one close to her home where she would walk on fine evenings.  As she got closer she recognised the figure was a monk, kneeling as if in prayer, his head bowed. The woman approached the monk and, as if compelled to do so, she spoke to him:  “you have the greatest treasure, please will you give it to me?’  The monk’s head started to rise ever so slowly, but before she could make out his face, and before he had uttered a word in reply, she awoke.

No! how could she wake up now, why did the dream end now?  It wasn’t the end of the dream, she hadn’t found out what the treasure was!  This was painful, the dream was so real surely it had a meaning for her?  But without knowing what the treasure was how would she understand its meaning. Maybe if she walked by the canal she would get some inspiration?

Walking along the canal path, the one thing that struck her, as it did on numerous occasions, was how calm it was. The gentle breeze was enough to make the water sing as it lapped against the canal wall. Ahead on the side of the path she saw….yes it was the brown cloak, it was the monk, this was the dream but in reality!

Without any hesitation she rushed to the monk and in an excited voice uttered ‘ You have the greatest treasure, please give it to me!’ The covered head of the monk started to rise and at the same time and at the same rate his clenched hand moved towards the woman. “Ah,” he said,  “you mean this.’  As he spoke  his fist slowly unclenched, ‘I found it at the side of the path there.’ Looking into the woman’s eyes, a slight smile appeared on the face of the monk. “‘Yes this is what you want.”  The woman looked at the outstretched palm in front of her. There in the middle of the monk’s hand was a huge, sparkling diamond. A gasp escaped her lips, “I can have it?” she asked.  “Yes,”  the monk replied, “of course.”

The woman took the rock from the monk’s hand and, completely overwhelmed with the event that had just unfolded, left the monk without thanking him. She would have done, of course she would have done, but now the dream had become reality, this was too much!  She could hardly breathe, let alone say thank you.

She started for home, thinking of all the things that this diamond would bring her, of the security she now had:  bills paid, presents bought, a makeover, a new car!  So much to spend and so little time. This was indeed the greatest treasure.

But suddenly she stopped and thought. For five minutes she stood deep in thought, staring at her hand, still holding the diamond.

She returned towards the monk. The smile on her face disappeared and tears started streaming down her face. When she reached him and without taking her eyes off him,  she hurled the diamond into the canal.  It landed in the centre of the water, the deepest gloomiest part, never to be seen again.

Just as the sound of the splash disappeared, she turned slowly to the monk, the tears still running down her cheeks. As her benefactor returned her stare, with an air of purpose she said:

” Now give me the greatest treasure.  Give me the treasure that you have, the one that made it so easy for you to give up that diamond.”

Blog soon comparing loyalty & reward cards for the major coffee chains in the UK.

Costa, Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Coffee Republic all have a reward scheme for their loyal customers and rightly so, but which are gimmicks and which gives good value for money.

Any thoughts? please leave comments and the post will be here soon.

Someone mentioned just recently that I hadn’t posted on my blog for sometime. The truth is I must have a reason to write, something to write about. Sometimes its about something that has laboured long on my heart, other times it’s sharing some good times and other times it’s a rant.

Well this is most definately a rant. It’s a rant about coffee!

My tipple is a medium latte, extra shot, extra hot wet, which is the same as a medium no foam extra shot extra hot latte. In fact it can be any derivative you fancy, but, it needs to end up in the cup pretty much the same, with an extra shot and extra hot and no foam…..simple! Isn’t it?

Starbucks understands, Cafe Nero understands, Costa? no!….well yes they do….sometimes.

You see the problem is that Costa has decided to franchise. The frustrating thing with the mighty Whitbread (who owns the Costa brand) is that they seem more concerned with expansion than they do with quality. They have no problem with opening sites, they are expanding at such a rate of knots that soon they will have more sites than anyone else, but whats the point when they can’t police the ones they have. How many of their managers, area managers, regional managers are seasoned baristas? Not many I should wager.

The strap line they have chosen for the brand is;

Costa – We make it better

Um….sorry Mr Whitbread….no you don’t!

The main issue that Costa has to contend with is that it is ensconced in the dreaded F word…..FRANCHISE.

Now franchising I have no issue with, I have worked for a company in the past and looked after the franchise side for a while. Franchising is good. If you have a strong brand with great support, arduous training, regular reviewing it can work.

Sadly I fear that Costa has spent more time on opening doors than opening training manuals. Yes believe me there are good Costa’s as much as there are poor ones. The part of coffee retailing I feel strongly that they have lost sight of is CONSISTENCY.

My extra shot, extra hot, wet latte can vary so much between shop to shop its incredible. My local shop I popped into this morning had no idea what I was asking for. Three weeks ago at Clacket Lane Services on the M25 I ended up making it myself.

Sadly for the inhabitants of Weston-super-Mare, we have now 2 Costa’s and a few independants. Not a Starbucks or Cafe Nero or even a Coffee Republic in sight.

Love Starbucks or loathe them (I quite like them personally) the one thing you can pin your hat on is the fact that their teams have a rigorous training regime. Baristas are trained to a high level, which has the effect of ensuring that we the consumers have exactly what we want whatever shop we go into. Yes you will get the odd naff cup, but its very rare. If a trainee doesn’t understand your requirement they will ask for clarification, no arguments. Not only have they been trained in coffee making, they have been trained exstensively in the dieing art of customer service. The same has to be said for Cafe Nero. Great coffee, almost every time.

Unfortunately I don’t think that Costa has grasped the concept of quality. Yes, they have grabbed with both hands the price. Like an acrobat on the parallel bars they have a vice like grip on the price, but if I’m paying £2:50ish for a coffee I expect it to be right.

So Whitbreads take a long hard look at what you’re doing. You have a strong brand, but if you don’t protect it, it can so easily and quickly be damaged.

Right im off to Starbucks to console my taste buds

Work has been hectic!

Nine months ago I was being taken through a hideous process called redundancy, and at the very last redundancy consultation meeting I was asked to stay on for a period of two maybe three months…well to cut a long story short (very very rare for me) I’m still there and have been given a new contract.

 Since that most awful of times (very Dickens-like), we have just got busier and busier. I often wonder what would have happened if I had gone, who would be doing what I do now? ….Yup, anybody!! I have never ventured asking the Operations Director the same question for fear of his reply, I think knowing him as I do, it would come out something like,

 ‘Well lets find out shall we?’

I digress, its been hectic, it seems every moment of the day is taken up with work, until last Saturday.

Saturday was one of those days when you look back and a big grin spreads across your face….well it did mine anyway.

You see Saturday, was about spending time with an old friend; can I just stipulate at this juncture, old as in the length of time  I have known her not that she is a friend and is advancing in years, we coffeed several times, chatted, walked, did a bit of work, not half as much as was planned, but nevertheless work was part of the agenda.

I then went to see one of the loves of my life. We have had a somewhat love hate relationship over the years, but when you support a football (soccer for my American readers) team, you will have a slightly tortuous affair. We WON, OHHHH that sounds good, we did indeed win. Not only did we win my friends, we won in style. The mighty Swansea City beat some other team you will never have heard of 4-0!!

I was ecstatic and thrice ecstatic! Never has so much  ecstaticness been witnessed before from seat 104 D in the West stand. I was so delirious I could have kissed the person sat next to me. Had it not been for the fact that he was eating a cold steak pie, with half the contents neatly balancing on his chin, as if he was saving it for a more meagre period of his life, I would have, and he would have flipping well enjoyed it……. but probably not as much as a steak pie, by the looks!

Not only did the Swans win, but sitting in the aisle across from me was my nephew, who had called me about 45 minutes before the match to say he had been let off work early and was coming to the match. Now I adore my nephew. In the week of his 21st birthday i was to spend an afternoon with him. The pleasure of his company was only marred by driving to his new ‘pad’ which is reached by a…..well I can’t call it a road or a track really, some suspension busting, tyre wrecking, bone rattling driveway that would have had less and shallower potholes if they had dropped a ten ton bomb on it. How we laughed…..well he did anyway! I was wracking my brains trying to remember if fully comprehensive car insurance covered retrieving half your car from a ditch infested track…..but i’ve already said I can’t call it a track, but you get the picture.

Van Morrison, as im prone to quote, sang ‘Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder’ and the people, the place, the event that I was so ensconced in on Saturday all brought me a sense of wonder.

To have people, places and experiences that leave you smiling, to know what it is to be BLESSED is truly wonderful.

So im still smiling and this week has just got better and better, and it’s because I’m surrounded by people and nice people, or maybe, just maybe I appreciate more than I used to?

On 11th August it will be one year since Chloe-Marie a young lady who was 3 when I met her mum, passed away.

A young lady who I would be proud to call my eldest. She was funny, moody and had an amazing imagination. The stories she would make up or the games she would force her younger sister to play were hilarious.

The time she felt that all Barbies should have cropped blue hair was an event that will live long in the memory…..only because not hers, oh no her Barbies were perfect as they were, they had to be Bethanys and it was far too inconvenient to get Beths approval before sending them to the Chloe salon.

There was the holiday game, where, we were all to be called different names, Bethany was Boofan, Chloe was Rosie and I was Dickly Puffle, well it follows…..doesn’t it?

There was her longing, I mean absolute longing for Dairylea cheese spread. I can still hear her mutterings when in France in a swish restaurant ‘bet theres no cheese spread’

There was a gross game of make dad a sandwich, and the deal was, I would have to eat whatever was put in front of me. Tuna and jam, cheese, hash brown, tomato ketchup and peanut butter or the cakes she would press gang her sister into helping her make, that would have blue food colouring, or copious amounts of salt. I would eat it up without trying to look as if my days were ending, well I had too, there was two of them and only one of me.

Yes there were mood swings and we fell out from time to time, arguments that now seem pathetic, rediculous, a massive overreaction. Times when I was at my wits end and no doubt she was with me, but thats familys for you and it happens.

The fact is, she was just a normal girl and I loved her and she was my eldest and I miss her. The difference being a year later I think about what we had, what we had together and what we had as a family. The great fun we had.

I wasn’t a perfect dad, but I did what I thought was best, and I have no doubt, due to the fact I said it so often, that she knew I loved her. Of course as she got older it was met with ‘Your so embarrassing!’.