France 2014: A Flashback to Argenton-sur-Creuse

Early on our trip, we wandered down to the Place de la Ville (the town square) to enjoy some coffee at Le Pourquoi Pas (the why not) in the medieval town of Argenton-sur-Creuse. It was our first view of a dog at the table, something that is highly accepted in France. I think it’s hilarious seeing these little pets dining out.

a happy canine customer

I asked Dutchy to take a photo of me sitting at the table. Make it a close up I suggested.

not that close thanksNOT THAT CLOSE!

Sandi at Le Pourquoi Pas

“That’s better,” I said, “But now I would like one without my hat and glasses.”

Another “spontaneous” shot was duly taken. I always like to retain right of refusal to digital photos.

my less than spontaneous happy snap

I was happiest with this one.

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Welcome to Orlando, USA

Almost a cavity search!

 

Once inside the airport at Gatwick, we made our way to customs. I started towards one lane and then realised it was the “assisted lane” so I began moving away when one of the security guards allowed us to go through, because they weren’t busy at that stage. However, by the time they had finished with me, there was a decent queue. We had to place our liquids and pastes in a little plastic bag outside our hand luggage, of course with nothing greater than 100mls, but I forgot to take my watch off because I was busy remembering to take my belt off. Naturally the metal detector doorway beeped. Maybe we had been too chatty and therefore suspicious, because the female security guard gave me the once over, very thoroughly I might add. One centimetre more and it would have been a cavity search! The weight of our luggage was just over the allowance for check-in baggage, at 23.1 kg and 23.2 kg, but our cabin bags, not including the laptop bag (thank goodness) or my handbag, weighed 5.7 and 6.0 kg, just under the 7 kg limit.

On this aeroplane, flight BA2037, the individual movie screens were much clearer and the sound much better than on Malaysian Airlines. We enjoyed flying through the day watching multiple movies: Last Night, Bridesmaids and Water for Elephants for me; Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Battle Los Angeles, Source Code, and half of Hanna for him.

 

Here, there and everywhere:

 

Arriving in Orlando after a long time travelling, and having to set our watches back five hours, we were fairly tired. We went to the Mears transport counter to utilise the prepaid transfer vouchers, but there was quite a long wait before our shuttle arrived. During the shuttle trip, there was a radio station 97.5 playing a song “Give me a red neck girl” as part of its country repertoire. We thought that was bad until the return trip when that guy tuned it to a whingeing talkback station, which I hate at the best of times. Then we were the last ones dropped off, and at the wrong hotel. Apparently there is a Marriott Fairfield Inn in Vineland Road and another in Vineland Ave, miles apart. Unfortunately we had wanted the one closest to Universal Studios, as Harry Potter World was the reason we were there, with Disney as a possible side trip.

Oh well, these things happen when travelling, and it could always be worse. We were so tired after we checked in that we were happy to just go downstairs to a food court in Marriott Village and buy pizza. They looked at us oddly when we requested a meatlover’s pizza with barbecue sauce on the base. Apparently this is an Australian thing. The generously topped pizza, accompanied by duty-free bourbon was delicious.

We enjoyed watching some TV, the US Open was playing, and we thought Roger Federer was looking younger. It turned out there was rain and this was a replay of the match in 2009!

 

Size does matter, part 2:

 

Australia doesn’t seem quite as vast as it did when we were in Europe.

We settled into an extremely large hotel room, bigger than many apartments we have stayed in, with a king-sized bed, a large bathroom, and a television bigger than ours at home. The television screen appeared even larger after having become accustomed to the mini-screens on the plane!

I remember when I first travelled to USA in 1981, I was amazed at how people seemed to be either really large or excessively trim and fit. Now that Australia is up there in the obesity stakes per capita, we are more used to seeing very large bodies.

You can buy double sized bottles of wine here too, which is almost unheard of, apart from a magnum of champagne, with which we are familiar.

 

 

 

 

Plastic fantastic??

 

One of the first things we noticed when we came down for breakfast the first morning was a plethora of plastic and polystyrene. After using real china and cutlery in all the rest of our travels, here it is all disposable. In France and England recycling was in the forefront, but not here. It seems so wasteful, and I can just imagine the enormous landfill in this country. Vast as it is, it will still eventually run out. And I understand the vast number of travellers there would be in a tourist destination such as this, but is that a good reason for all this waste?

Added to the general waste, is the washing. In hotels in Europe and Australia, there are always signs in hotel bathrooms suggesting that you only put towels on the floor that you want washed. Here they not only provide extra towels (which I do like because I need a second towel if I am washing my hair), but there are no environmental notifications anywhere.

 

 

Buffet Breakfast, included in price:

 

A toasted cinnamon and raisin bagel with cream cheese, sliced banana and a little Knott’s strawberry jam hit the spot. Our coffee cups from France were useful here, as we prefer drinking from real cups rather than polystyrene. You could add some UHT hazelnut milk which added another dimension to the coffee. At least it wasn’t the powdered coffee creamer.

Waffling on: not what I’m doing! You can make your own waffles here, but they beep when ready, and it sounds like an episode from ER with somebody flat lining. I keep expecting one of the doctors to yell out “clear” to be ready to resuscitate someone or something.

Although there was no cooked breakfast available, you could take a hard-boiled egg and warm it up in a cup with hot water. Teamed with some toast and butter, this was quite tasty. There were also muffins, cereal and yoghurt available.

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside

Brighton Pier, hen’s haven:

 

Somehow I got my wires crossed and had my cousin Amelia’s phone number from many years ago, so when we left a message on it of course she didn’t receive it, and meanwhile she was waiting for our call to come and pick us up from the station, once we had arrived from St. Pancras after the 1hr10 journey. We shared a Cornish pasty at exorbitant station rates and then ended up taking a taxi to the home I had spent six weeks at in 1981.

It was lovely to catch up with my relatives, and for them to meet Dutchy properly, as he had only briefly met them in 2001 in London. The three bottles of wine we brought were appreciated, and also helped lighten our luggage load! Naturally we helped drink them, too.

We met the twin children of my cousin’s daughter, so genealogically does that make them my second cousins once removed? Actually, I have just googled it, and it appears that perhaps they are all my first cousins, but her daughter is once removed, and the boys are twice removed. Then again, who do you believe?

The afternoon was spent down at Brighton Pier, having walked the 45 minutes from Amelia’s. It was really crowded, despite the weather not being super warm, but we were in England, and a mild day for an Australian is almost a heatwave in the UK. Even though it was later in the afternoon and the sea mist was rolling in, there were still people on the (rocky) beach! We are spoiled with our magnificent sandy beaches in Australia. Apparently it was the last day of summer school holidays so it was a last minute enjoyment of freedom for many.

Then we noticed groups of women dressed in similar clothing, some with badges or printed T-shirts, relating to Hen’s outings. They come down in droves to party on in Brighton.

We returned to the pier the following day to go to the Glitter Ball Bar for some Saturday afternoon karaoke, where I sang Fever, Dutchy sang Stuck in the Middle and then we did Time Warp together. The host suggested the crowd wasn’t drunk enough to really get into it, but you could tell she had enjoyed it, and we had satisfied the karaoke urge for the time being.

 

 

 

 

Idle Wussocks:

 

Way back in 1981 I spent six weeks as an Aussie barmaid at the Withdean Sportsman in Tongdean Lane. It’s now a carvery but it still looks the same from the outside. The bar is shorter than I remembered and a lighter timber.

We arrived, planning to meet my old colleagues, Mike and Gerry, a married couple who live in Patcham. We had been in touch via email, arranging that we would go there for lunch and they would meet us for coffee afterwards. So we didn’t rush to get there. I had done some Body Balance and Dutchy had watched some television, and then Amelia dropped us off at the pub.

I stood in the entrance for a photo opportunity when I felt a presence behind me. I sensed that someone was waiting to go past, so I stepped aside and said, “Sorry”, with the impression of a bikie in a Harley-Davidson shirt, and then I was surprised when he put his hand out (to beat me up? shake my hand?) And then it struck me, it was actually Mike, with greyer hair than I remembered, and a lot less weight. Hugs all round, amid laughter.

Time swirled around me and I was transported back to another part of my life. True friendships span the test of time, as did ours. It was an absolute delight to catch up with Mike and Gerry, and Dutchy fitted into the mix perfectly, as I suspected he would. Perhaps we have nearly convinced them to come to Australia?

 

 

 

Family History and family time:

 

Staying with relations you can talk about family. Amelia and I spent lots of time chatting about some family history. Apparently my paternal grandfather designed Reid’s Building in Maritzburg, which was known as the first skyscraper in South Africa, at three storeys tall! There were various other tidbits of information, such as the fact that my father’s mother (Gran) was under 5 feet tall, with Size 3 feet and had a 17 inch waist when a young woman.

In England speed bumps are affectionately known as sleeping policemen.

We loved the sunflower bread you can get from Ravens Bakery, a local shop where customers can be seen queuing up outside the door in Ditchling Road.

Katie, Amelia’s daughter and Jamie, her husband, had organised a street party with council permission to close off the entire street. There was a festive atmosphere and, because of Australians’ reputation, Dutchy was put to work manning the barbecue. However, it was unlike our gas barbecue/s at home and he had to build the fire first! He prefers being occupied, and his skills were a resounding success.

 

 

 

 

Whether the weather:

 

Remember this little ditty?

Whether the weather is hot, or whether the weather is cold, we’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.

The weather turned nasty our last couple of days in England, so our timing for leaving was good. Amelia had kindly driven us to Gatwick Airport, so contending with the rain was not as bad as when relying on public transport. Arriving in Orlando we were greeted by high temperatures and humidity.

Dutchy is much happier here weather-wise because at least there is cooling. In the hotel room we sometimes don’t use it at all, but it’s there if required. I find it’s always handy to carry a little cardigan because sometimes the difference between outside and inside temperatures is too extreme, and then you freeze when you go indoors. Never happy are we? I just like feeling comfortable. At least I don’t have those nasty hot flushes (or power surges as I preferred to call them) any more. Okay, too much information perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

Au revoir France

TGV travellers:

Hey bunch what on earth is that thing on his head? Is it a bomb? What then? His energy pack? Yes I can see he is Jewish and that he is reading his Bible but that doesn’t explain that pack. I must google it, as he had one on his arm as well. It looked a bit like an AC adaptor, with a plastic ribbon that wrapped around his head and then around and down his arm to another similar device, which we have never seen before. And now he is sitting down again and bowing countless times… Dutchy thought he may be trying to contact aliens.

Travelling during July and August, being summer, many shops are closed but accommodation was more available for us because friends’ families were away on holidays. There are advantages and disadvantages with any choice.

Hurtling towards Paris in the TGV, I spent almost the entire trip on the computer. When you travel in first class, you get a power point. If you remember to bring a European adaptor as we did this time, by the time you reach Paris you still have a fully-charged battery ready to go. The time flew, and before we knew it, we were at the Gare du Nord, ready to find our hotel we had booked months ago on the internet.

New Hotel Gare du Nord, Paris:

Exit Gare du Nord at Sortie (exit) rue de Dunkerque, which is the main station. Directly opposite the glass façade, which is the newer part next to the original stone building, you will see a street. On the left-hand side in white letters on a red background, there is a vertical sign “NEW HOTEL.” This is 40 rue de Saint Quentin and you are “home.” We called it home for one night anyway.

We received a warm welcome by young Ben on reception, who sent us up the little lift to the sixth floor. Never book a hotel that says “pas d’ascenseurs” because that would mean there were no lifts, or elevators if you are American.

Though the wallpaper was a little torn in parts, the room was decorated in autumnal tonings which were quite pleasing to the eye. Dutchy was pleased that there was a room safe, and cooling, we were both happy there was free wi-fi, and I was ecstatic because there was a bath. How I love a bath after a long walk. Needless to say, we then had a long walk, but not before we had ducked out to the nearest patisserie to have afternoon tea, knowing it was our last opportunity for French treats.

Interestingly enough, there was also cable television. Later that evening we watched an episode of XXL, with lots of nude bodies and a vague story line, but very tastefully done. The rest I will leave to your imagination.

Eurostar is still the star:

That sinking feeling when you have lost someone in a large area is scary, even though realistically you know they haven’t been abducted by aliens or white slave traders, and they are big enough to handle themselves. It’s a primeval thing, such as happened at the Gare du Nord. We had such a smooth departure from our hotel across the road to the station, it was almost too good to be true. And it was! We walked over to the huge departure board, bringing back memories from 1981 when I had a Eurail Youth Pass and spent many hours at various stations in Europe, second-class, sometimes sleeping overnight on the floor of trains. Ah, the things you do when you’re young. Not my style any longer, I’m afraid.

Anyway, back to the story. We had agreed that departures for Eurostar were on the 1st floor, but apparently we both pointed in different directions, and there are two 1st floors. I turned around and he was nowhere to be found. Stay calm I told myself. It’s all right, he’ll turn up in a minute, but he didn’t. I had headed off diagonally to the escalator as any sane person would do, but then I didn’t know whether to go upstairs or wait for him there. In the end I went up the escalator to “enregistrement” which is check-in, but he wasn’t there either.

At this stage I was getting rather anxious, and not just because he had my ticket and passport. I realised I loved him and didn’t want to lose him. Of course, once we found each other upstairs (in the correct area) then we could be annoyed at each other! Typical married couple.

So then it was adieu Paris and hello London.

Last days in Lyon

Mangled language:

When people are speaking a couple of languages, sometimes it gets confusing. You start using both in the same sentence, so that French/English = franglais. We had to laugh when Leslye added German into the mix. We were on the phone talking about which wines to bring, when suddenly she suggested I get two bottles from the fridge, “the white und the rosé.”

Sometimes, however, when I am speaking French but I am unsure of the word I need, I just say it in English with French pronunciation and very often it is either correct or nearly right, with just the ending of the word a little different. An example eludes me at this moment. My cousin Amelia from Brighton says she has “market French” which enables her to shop for food and which I think is quite clever.

Princess Piggi:

The Princess has fallen off her pedestal. This happens to me a lot. A lot of people have this impression that I am a bit of a princess, but occasionally I like to shatter that image. It’s too much pressure to keep up that level of charm – I’d die of a heart attack. Apologies to Neil Simon as I have plagiarised that line from his play “Play It Again Sam.” Actually, it’s not plagiarism if you acknowledge the quote is it?

It’s amazing what rich food can do to one’s digestive system, with noises and smells from both ends. In a car with four other people it is very unattractive and embarrassing, though fortunately I was with friends and they just made a big joke of it, at my expense. The princess illusion was gone, alas!

Alcoholic herbs:

It was decided to have some “down time” which we needed. I was still feeling the after-effects of the big weekend of rich food, so a quiet morning was spent, with a pleasant lunch in the garden before we left for the Voiron area in France.

Chartreuse, where we had a tour and free “dégustation” or tasting. The Chartreuse, or Carthusian monks, were given a manuscript with the recipe for an elixir for long life in 1605. Finally, the first “Elixir Vegetal” is created by one of the Brothers in the Grande-Chartreuse Monastery in 1737. The distilled spirit is matured with a secret combination of 130 herbs (and you thought Colonel Sanders was clever with his eleven secret herbs and spices for his chicken!) Green Chartreuse was made first, in 1764, while the milder Yellow Chartreuse was introduced in 1838. It is aged for many years in oak casks in the world’s largest liqueur cellarAlthough you could buy it at half the price in stores, I didn’t really like it enough and besides, our luggage has been getting heavier as it is, without adding more kilos, and bottles weigh heavily on those scales.

 

 

My husband, the inventor:

A quiet evening at home, with Dutchy thinking out of the box when he couldn’t find a bottle opener for the merlot. He managed to find a long screw and a long threaded cuphook to manufacture his very own “tire-bouchon” which will be pictured in this blog, as he was very pleased with himself. Just after this grand invention, I found a little drawer under the table, and we all know what was in there, but at least he had the satisfaction of using some lateral thinking.

 

 

Le petit frère:

Once again it was time to sort out our packing, then our mates drove us to Lyon and later we were supposed to meet down near the bridge for apéros, but because we headed down to the area we thought they would be arriving from, they had actually come the other way and were waiting for us, wondering why we were late!

From there we walked to Le petit frère, a great little reasonably-priced French restaurant where the chef is the owner, and has a passion for fine cuisine and presentation.

 

 

From food baby to stardom

Anyone for a food baby?

 

Sunday was declared an Eating Day. Apparently Leslye’s family, from Bordeaux, were disappointed that we didn’t have time to visit them in the west. After spending time with Hanis’ family, it was Audrey’s family’s turn.

Her extended family have a really old holiday home in Bourg d’Oisans, about 45 minutes’ drive from Grenoble, close enough to spend holidays and pop back  as required, but far enough away to provide a country mountainous environment. We met her mother, father, grandmother, great-uncle and a few family friends. Margot and Phillipe, Audrey’s parents, spoke very little English, while her “mémé” and uncle “Loulou” spoke none, which was good practice for my conversational French.

Eva, Audrey’s eleven-year-old sister and I took a shine to each other. I think our love of cats helped! She has this gorgeous ten-month-old tabby called “Drex” and I was so touched when she gave me a cat ornament to take back to Australia for my collection.

Dutchy was happy that Hervé, Phillipe’s friend, and Hervé’s son Alexandre, spoke English. Though Hervé hadn’t spoken English in years, his years as a fight steward stood him in good stead. I was most impressed with his jam-making ability, learned from his grandmother and perfected over the years, something I plan to try. The fromage blanc is almost like a set yoghurt, served with fruit and confiture (jam). Margot made a lovely tart with really nice pastry. I remember being really impressed with the shortcrust pastry Audrey made in Australia. Obviously she inherited the talent.

We had a barbecue, but were amused at how small the cooking plate was. In Australia it is unusual to have a wood-fired one, with total fire bans often in force.

After sharing wine, food and conviviality we went for a walk to the blue lake, le petit lac bleu, with its clear fresh mountain water giving a blue sheen to its surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Size does matter:

 

Everything seems to be bigger in Australia than in France with our great expanses of land, large houses in the suburbs with gardens and even apartments seem bigger in general. Men are usually taller and more solid, so finding clothes here is not so easy. We have a lot more smaller European cars now, with petrol prices on the increase, and I’ve already mentioned the crocodile at the zoo in Lyon.  But Grenoble, with its majestic mountains, can lord it over us. If you know Mt. Dandenong in Victoria, Australia, after visiting France, you might rename it “Mound Dandenong.”

Bathrooms remain the bugbear of my larger-than-a-frenchman husband. He just about has to stick one arm out of some bathrooms just to dry himself!

 

 

 

Home-fired pizza; the eating day continues:

 

Then it was time to set off further up the mountain, to a place called La Garde, where I couldn’t imagine living because it seems so far from everything. We decided I was a suburban girl, but Audrey added to that and now I am a “Suburban Bourbon Girl.”

A multi-cultural event it was, from Australians to French to German. Audrey’s aunt Josianne and uncle Joacquin (check spelling), have a bi-annual pizza gathering, utilising their wood-fired outdoor pizza oven. Preparations had obviously been underway for a long time, as there was dough and toppings ready for everyone to make their own. They only took about 5 or 10 minutes to cook, and we ate them with some salad. What an experience! I bet you can all hear Dutchy’s mind ticking over: how do I make one of these? We have room for it in our backyard, but do we really need it?

 

Stars in my eyes:

 

Hollywood calling!!! For the second time in two days, in two very separate areas, we were compared with TV or movie stars. It made my day, but I know it’s probably because we are just not the usual sort of people they meet, and this time we were definitely in the country.

Then there was a little bit of singing. The four sisters, all Audrey’s aunts, had lovely voices and harmonised also, very pleasant to listen to. They knew we did karaoke, but singing without a backing track and microphone is a bit daunting. However, I rose to the challenge and sang “Fever” but I deliberately left out one of the verses as I didn’t want to bore them. Still, I received better applause than one sometimes does at karaoke, and what’s more they were actually listening; again unlike at karaoke where people listen for a minute then go back to their conversations. Everyone knows I have a gene to be seen, so this was very satisfying.

Cheeky Dutchy had brought his Itouch and tiny portable speakers with a good sound, and he just happened to have some backing tracks to sing to, not that he needs it, as he has a better natural voice than I do, and better timing too.

Then “Frère Jacques” was sung in rounds, with most people joining in, and the German contingent singing in that language.

The whole evening was a lot of fun, and real tiramisu and fruit salad for dessert finished it off nicely.

 

 

Accosted by man with moustache; who are those TV stars?

Frenchman accosted by scary man with big black moustache in Sydney:

We always have so much fun with Hanis, Audrey and Leslye, and to think this whole chain of events started just because I love speaking French and Dutchy had heard some people speaking French outside the hotel in Sydney. The way Hanis tells the story is hysterical. I will try to incorporate both his and our version.

I had dashed upstairs to get my cardigan because January evenings can be cool. We were celebrating our Silver Anniversary with a few days in Sydney before taking a Princess Cruise to the South Pacific. I came back down and Dutchy said, “You just missed some French people.” Disappointed, we set out for an evening of karaoke.

Hanis tells it like this: They were in Sydney when a scary man with a big black moustache accosts them with “Do you speak French?” He replied, a bit intimidated, “Yes, and you?” Of course Dutchy replied “No” which temporarily confused him until Dutchy added, “But my wife loves speaking French.” “Where is she?” “She’s not here.” Thus ended the strange interlude until…

Hours later, when we were heading back to the hotel,Dutchy exclaimed, “There they are! I recognise the hat. See that little guy with the good-looking girl?” “What guy? What girl? What on earth are you talking about?” “The French couple I mentioned earlier, from outside the hotel.” I had been trying to improve my French conversational skills with a course at Box Hill TAFE the previous year, as one of the stops would be New Caledonia, so excitedly I ran over to the alleged couple with a “Bonjour, Bonjour!”

Hanis was taken aback and as he tells it, he was now being attacked by a strange, crazy woman shouting French at him, while Audrey was wondering why this woman knew they were French in the first place.

As it transpired, we learned that Hanis spoke barely any English, but Audrey had a good handle on the language. Since I liked speaking French this was not a problem. We chatted for a while, and because we mentioned we were going to Paris later in the year, Hanis kindly gave us his mobile there, because he had found the Australians very friendly and generous and he would like to return some of that generosity.

To market, to market:

Feeling a little seedy that Saturday, we nevertheless took a tram to the markets, where the others were buying a few fruit and vegies, but I managed to find something else. It was a silvery grey bag to sling over my shoulder with the potential to hold a small laptop or Ipad, as we have realised the one we brought is too large and heavy for travelling.

Later it was necessary to have an afternoon nap, as we were going out to dinner later.

An Algerian Experience:

Though not a strict Muslim, some of Hanis’ family are. We were invited to dinner, which was to be served after sundown as it was still Ramadan. They live in a high-rise housing commission building which is in a rough area, but once inside the apartment it could have been a swish suburb. The contrast was remarkable, as here was a nicely-furnished and cared-for large apartment.

A man and woman arrived, and we were introduced to Lies, Hanis’ brother. We assumed the lady was his wife, as he was helping with the two cute children, only to later find we had assumed wrong, as she was their sister! Their respective partners were at home.

Dinner at Hanis’ mother’s house, or as we say with French grammar, at the house of the mother of Hanis, was delicious. His sister Yasmina and his mother had been cooking all day in preparation for our visit, despite the fact they couldn’t eat or taste the food during daylight hours. Never mind, it was still delicious. Years of cooking these foods stood by them.

Little triangles called “brick” contained melted cheese and were very tasty. I could have just had those with salad for dinner, but there was more to come. There were others with a seasoned meat filling. Couscous with slow-cooked lamb and vegetables were yummy too, and to personalise the taste there was extra chilli sauce, and even a couple of separate green chillies, which Dutchy loved. You can always add heat, but it’s difficult to take it away, so this suited everyone.

We adjourned to the lounge, where I sat on a fabulous zebra-striped couch and felt very exotic. There we had some after-dinner delicacies and sweetened mint tea, before departing to Le Bar Artistique, for a drink at their local hangout in Grenoble, where Hanis is friends with the owner.

American TV couple!!??

Imagine being compared with an American TV couple! Apparently Hanis’ mother thought that’s what we looked like, with my blonde hair, Dutchy’s moustache and, dare I say, being reasonably attractive. I loved every second of my celebrity, as you can envisage!

I guess being blonde is less usual in France, and although Dutchy is not so tall by Australian standards, at about 5 foot 10, there are many short Frenchman, which makes him appear taller.

Of course, we did wonder which couple they were thinking of: The Brady Bunch? The Munsters? It later appeared they were thinking of some of the soaps, which I didn’t mind, as they are usually rather gorgeous. Let me live in my little dreamworld for a while, please.