Learning New Vocabulary

My inner Victor Meldrew exploded as we were rehearsing our worship songs.
“I don’t believe it!”
“Did you make this word up?”
“No, it’s a regular word.”

Poor longsuffering Fred, accused of inventing an outlandish word, had no idea why I was so incensed. Apparently, for a long time now, musicians have been referring to the short instrumental closing passage of a song, the opposite of an “intro”, as an “outro”. I have been living on Planet Zog, obviously.

Is it necessary to invent a new word for this? What’s wrong with “coda”? Nah. That’s not the same. I really didn’t believe it but checked Google, and it agreed with Fred: used not only in music but as closing credits for a film or video game, and even for a work of literature or journalism.

So – is there a longer form, “outroduction”? Can it also be used as the opposite of introduction in a social setting, for instance when you deliberately avoid meeting a new person, or part from the person you have just been introduced to?

My dismay was due to the failure to acknowledge the Latin root, intro + ducere, to lead into. The opposite should be ex (or even extra) + ducere, and there is a perfectly good Latin verb educere meaning to lead out, which gives us eduction. In fact, extraduction (a nice panvocalic word by the way) though rare, also exists, but has nothing to do with music. Can’t subvert those, then. And “extro”? seems that has also already been taken.

I must return from Planet Zog and accept that since hardly anyone nowadays bothers about Latin or the derivation of words – and what a loss that is! Another post starting to simmer in my head on the subject! – we are going to get a lot more bastard coinages like “outro”. In fact, I just came across another one: “Freemium”.

I surrender.

Grassroots and Elefantillos

“What are you doing?”
It sounds like a parent/teenager exchange, but actually it was simply my weekday response to a full long weekend. My friend, an enemy of indolence, was instantly concerned.
“Are you OK?”
“Sure. Just relaxing, doing nothing.”

Actually, I was crocheting some white elephants, a blanket-edging pattern that caught my eye as I was browsing, and as the video tutorial was in Spanish I was pleased with myself that I had been able to figure it out.

Here they are:


I’m not too happy about their tails, so was working on a way to remedy that, but I wasn’t about to explain all that on the phone.

I was also busy using up all the odds and ends of wool left over from my failed attempts at granny squares: I just couldn’t devise anything that I liked, but it meant that what had been quite large skeins to begin with had ended up as a number of small balls of different coloured wool, that was starting to unravel and looking not only fatigued but exhausted. It took me most of the week but by Thursday I had a cushion cover to go with my shell-patterned rugs (or “plaids” as the French and Germans insist on calling them). I still have some dark blue and white left, though only a few yards, following the elefantillos and the stripy reverse of the cushion.

I might also have told her that I was watching the grass grow. At the beginning of the month we had our garden rotivated, new topsoil spread and levelled, and grass seed scattered. It was very, very hot at the time and the earth looked extremely dry. My neighbour and I were quite concerned that the grass seed was a total waste, and we’d have done better to have had it turfed – the usual way of making a lawn in the UK, but considered an expensive luxury here in Switzerland. However, we were informed that it would germinate as soon as it rained.


Well, yes, one day it did rain, but immediately afterwards the heatwave resumed and we couldn’t see any sign of life in our grass. The money we saved on getting seed instead of turf has gone towards a sprinkler and the promise of a robot lawnmower, so we turned on the sprinkler for a few days and my neighbour hosed the bits the sprinkler didn’t reach, until the ground did indeed begin to assume a greenish cast. I performed an unintentional Mr Bean act the first day by trying to move the sprinkler without first turning it off, which resulted in a drenching not only for me, but also for my neighbours in our house as well as those across the road and the lady next door. I hope nobody was videoing that!  grass-2

Meanwhile, three weeks later, with lower temperatures, a bit of rain now and then, and probably the effect of the morning dew, we now have what is indisputably a lawn. It’s very tender grass, like the hair on a baby’s head, and the area outside my patio is patchy, but I am optimistic that soon I shall be watching the robot mower instead of the grass. I check it every morning – not with a measuring rod, I hasten to add, but visually – and it is perceptibly growing. So that’s my latest hobby. And I’ve gained a suntan while pursuing it.grass-3

grass 4.pngAnd why was I so in need of doing nothing?
No complaints! I had a great weekend, starting with a wonderful party to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary of my eldest granddaughter and her husband. About sixty people, many of whom had been guests at the wedding, feasted on a delicious so-called sucking pig (it was a young one, but no way was it still a suckling) roasted on a spit, masses of food and champagne, and all beautifully managed by my dear granddaughter, who is noted in the family for her efficiency ever since she attended nursery school and streamlined their systems for them at the age of two. She certainly lived up to her reputation, and as far as I could see, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.


Garden with tree house ready for the kids, and party tent for the gown-ups


I was able to catch up with a number of people I hadn’t seen for a while, including my youngest granddaughter, and had the pleasure of the company of my middle granddaughter and her husband, who were staying overnight too, over breakfast and lunch on Sunday morning.

I had rashly agreed to lead worship at the Sunday afternoon service in our little church fellowship, and needed some practice. We are a small community, and very far from competing with the Tabernacle Choir. Some of us can play an instrument – piano, keyboard, guitar – with varying degrees of competence, and anyone who can hold a tune within about an octave is encouraged to join in as vocalist.

Last Sunday, we had no instruments, so had to resort to canned music. As leader for the day, I was allowed to choose the songs and hymns so I picked some old favourites and waited for the summons to practice. Unfortunately, although our “choir” consisted of only three of us, the only time we were all available to rehearse together was an hour before the service, so Fred, who is in charge and rivals my granddaughter for efficiency, sent us Spotify versions to practise with: a demo version and a performance version.

To my surprise, I was able to install the app without any trouble. But then – Wow! Were these the old familiar songs I had picked? Not the tempo I was used to in a couple of them, too much gospel flavour in that one (fine to listen to, but I can’t do it myself) and a bit high in another, and as I listened to the performance version, which is like karaoke, I was bewildered as to where I should come in. So Sunday morning we had a nonstop loop of worship playing in the background as I tried to familiarise myself with these arrangements. Middle granddaughter was highly amused that “Granny has Spotify!” and grandson-in-law was helpful in orienting me as I painfully navigated in the app to the places I wanted to be.

By the time I got to the rehearsal, I had some idea of what it ought to sound like but I wasn’t terribly optimistic, and hoped the congregation would sing loud enough to drown me out. Of course, Fred fixed it: he had listened to these tracks so many times, he could have sung them in his sleep, and I just watched him and came in when he nodded to me. We even managed a canon version of “You are my hiding place” and to my relief I didn’t feel in need of a hiding place as we finished up. In fact, we felt rather exhilarated at having pulled it off without live musicians to back us and the congregation seemed to enjoy singing the old favourites.

Afterwards, I was invited to spend a day or two with a good friend, so although that was in no way strenuous it did involve a lot of talk. So all in all, a lovely long weekend – but it was soothing to return to my crocheting and the excitement of watching the grass grow.

On The Hohen Kasten

Twenty years ago I was happily scrambling about on all the hiking trails visible from the top of this mountain,  including the one leading up to it. Now, I take the cable car, and discover that even walking down the well-tended paths on the summit with carefully carved out steps is tough on my knees. No way am I walking down to the village below, over any of the oh so familiar routes. hoherkasten1

I turn back and stroll around the beautifully paved summit platform drinking in the panorama: I know these mountains well, having lived so close for almost twenty years in my forties and fifties, when I was still fit enough for day-long hikes up and down the steepest tracks.hoherkasten

I know exactly what the path feels like underfoot over there, what the view is like looking up from that little lake, where the path from it leads to,  how it smells in the forest on that hillside, what flowers bloom on that mountain pasture, what lies just behind that craggy rock. Names I had forgotten come back to me as my eyes range over the hills and crags: Fänern, Kamor, Ruhsitz, Staubernkanzel, Saxer Lücke, Sämtiser See, Bollenwees, Fälensee, Alp Sigel, Äscher, Ebenalp, Füssler, Schöfler, Säntis, Bommern, Gartenalp, Kuhschnurweg … And there in the distance is the village where I lived until 2005.

Twenty years: yes, it must be at least that long since I last stood here. They have developed the summit for tourists, with a self-service restaurant downstairs topped by a more sophisticated revolving restaurant that opened eight years ago, so that’s all new to me and not unpleasant or ugly. I am grateful that I don’t have to stumble over the uneven stony surface that used to be here, and can lean on the railings as I gaze on this lovely scenery: gratitude for the convenience, mixed with a pang of regret that I am getting older and a bit wobbly and need that support.

My friend suggests eating in the revolving restaurant, but it’s just twelve noon and the Germanic stomachs of the tourists send punctual signals. They got there first. We aren’t really hungry so we go back outside, wander around a while and then sit on a bench in the sun. It must be about 30°C but there’s a breeze. At 1 pm we try the restaurant again, and find seats. The restaurant rotates through 360° in one hour, so you don’t really feel any movement; it’s just when you glance through the window now and again that you realise the Austrian mountains have slid off to the left and you are looking down the Rhine towards Graubünden, or the peaks of the Alpstein have hove into view.


View across the Rhine towards Austria and Liechtenstein

For old times’ sake I take an Appenzell cheese salad, which turns out to be a huge plateful and delicious, and a glass of Bernecker white wine – you have to come to Switzerland to appreciate how good our wines are: I don’t think any are exported, the quantities produced aren’t so great so we drink them all ourselves.

Now there is no question at all of walking down the mountain. If I felt wobbly before, just that one little glass of wine, the rotation and the altitude (only 1795 m above sea level) combine to make my walking stick an essential third leg. Once more around the block, then back to the cable car. Eight minutes later, we are down in the village. I need a last photo before we drive away, but the sun is so bright I can’t see what I’m snapping, and there’s a Mercedes behind me impatient to move off the car park, so in my haste I find I’ve chopped the top off the mountain. Never mind: perhaps there’ll be another visit on an equally beautiful day and a chance for another pic, before the next twenty years are up.


My apologies for the poor quality of the iPhone photos, due to the bright sun and my inability to hold the phone still, but you’ll find better ones on the website of Hoher Kasten.

Colchiques dans les prés …

Temperatures during the day are still in the high twenties here, and sometimes I’m sure it’s been over 30”C, too hot for me to do anything demanding energy. A late afternoon stroll with some old friends to Heidi’s village, just across the river from here, gave me a poignant reminder however that autumn is nigh: the autumn crocus, or meadow saffron, is blooming in profusion on the slopes.


Goat in Heid’s village, above Maienfeld, view towards Bad Ragaz

I startled my friends by bursting into song – not too loud, I didn’t want to scare the droves of oriental tourists that flock to the scene of the 1950’s Heidi films – because for me this little flower is inextricably linked with my first September in Switzerland, in the mountain meadows near Geneva, where I first came across the colchicum autumnale and the children were all singing this melancholy little melody.


Colchiques dans les prés fleurissent …

As autumn songs go, it actually isn’t so sad: yes, the summer is over but the colchique is blooming, the colourful leaves are swirling, clouds wing their way across the sky, chestnuts are bursting in the forests and the song that lingers in the heart – despite the plaintive tune – is one of happiness.

Not an anonymous folk song, as I discovered from Wikipedia, but a ritournelle written for the scout movement in 1942 or 43, the words by Jacqueline Debatte and the melody by a lady with the marvellous name of Francine Cookenpot. What better name for a composer of campfire songs!

For anyone interested, here are links to YouTube versions of the song, one in a traditional children’s arrangement, the other by the romantic chansonnier Francis Cabrel  (one of my favourite French singers, who doesn’t sound like a bleating sheep). There’s also a version of the melody with English words that bear no relation to the original by a long-forgotten French progressive rock band called Sandrose.

I listened to the first few bars of this batlike singer and understand why the band sank into oblivion.

This pretty little flower is deadly poisonous, with no known antidote, but has medicinal uses. Interesting that once upon a time, nobody was bothered that little children sang so blithely about it. I do know that when I first heard it, sung by first-graders, they all knew it was not to be picked or nibbled. “If you touch it, you’ll DIE!” they told me. I hope that, despite modern over-protective parents, first-graders are still singing about it, aware of the dangers and with enough childish common sense not to eat it.

Finally, if you also want to sing along to this haunting little song, here are the words:

Automne (Colchiques Dans Les Près)

Colchiques dans les près
Fleurissent, fleurissent
Colchiques dans les près
C’est la fin de l’été

La feuille d’automne
Emportée par le vent
En rondes monotones
Tombe en tourbillonnant

Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire, s’étire
Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire comme une aile

Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent, se fendent
Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent sous nos pas

Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure, murmure
Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure le bonheur.

Book Launch: Post Script

It was a good event, at least as far as I could judge. A motley audience of around two hundred, of all ages – obviously, some of the boys’ friends had also come along for moral support – and the books were selling like hot cakes. Joséphine and Désiré looked like royalty, and were kept busy signing book after book all evening, and were clearly on a high. Their sons have grown into tall young men, handsome, polite and very personable, and well integrated into their Swiss environment. They certainly appear a very happy family, and were gracious hosts.

My friend M is their Swiss “mother” so we decided to travel together by train. We arrived a few minutes late in spite of having planned to be there half an hour early: the Fates in charge of trains had other ideas for us. Oh no, the train wasn’t late – this is Switzerland, and delays are few and far between. It was our own fault. We had an ample five minutes to change from platform 3 to platform 6, and hopped onto the train standing at platform 6 without checking. It left on time, and then a few minutes later stopped in the middle of nowhere.

We sat patiently, chatting, and then a conductor happened to pass through, did a double take, and asked what we were doing there. We told him where we hoped we were going, and he informed us that we were on the back end of the train, which had been uncoupled! Never mind, stay put. This is the next train; you’ll just be half an hour later than you expected.

We were being met at our destination, so we took out our smart phones to let Joséphine know the situation. Oh dear! She had called me earlier on my landline so I didn’t have her number in my mobile, but M said she had recently received a text from her, so she ought to be able to find it. Unfortunately, she had only had this smart phone two days, and it was so smart she couldn’t find her old text messages. It wasn’t the same make as my mobile, so I was no help.

Suddenly her phone rang, and she recognised the number as Joséphine’s – but what was the procedure for answering? She pressed what appeared to be the main button, but the phone just kept ringing and then stopped. The number was still visible on the display, so I started to copy it into my phone – then it disappeared.

Luckily, Joséphine is persistent and rang again, so this time I got the number. As soon as M’s phone stopped ringing we called back from my phone and explained what had happened, so someone was able to meet us after all. A good thing, as we would never have found the venue alone! After ten minutes’ brisk walk, we were there, and hadn’t missed too much of the introductory talks. Our apologies were brushed aside with the remark, “You’re among Africans! Time is nothing!”

They refrained from suggesting that we attend a course for Seniors in how to use their smart phones.

PS: This is my 500th post here!

Book Launch

This evening, I’m invited to a “vernissage” – but not for paintings. This is a book launch, and one I am very pleased to be able to attend.

Three years ago, I reported here an exciting and momentous event that changed the lives of five people I know. And in April of last year came the announcement that the incredible story of this family was to be told in book form.

Joséphine book

The book – in German – has now been written and published, and is available online. The German title is Auf der Flucht getrennt and the author is Johanna Krapf.  I am hoping to be allowed to translate this, and that we can find a suitable publisher for the English version of this Odyssey, which reads like the scenario of an Indiana Jones movie. Fingers crossed.

The Christian names of this family are inspiring: Joséphine means “God will increase”, Désiré is the desired one, Patrick is the noble one, Joyeux is joyful and Espoir is hope. They are living up to their names.

Is this the right time to be bringing out stories of refugees? Isn’t the world fed up and tired of hearing about people trying to escape from war, violence and genocide? Perhaps. But this is also a story of hope, faith and love in the midst of indescribable horror and hardship, and it shines a bright beam of optimism into the darkness. It’s an ongoing story, and in some ways this family still has a long way to go before all the trauma of the past can be dealt with. However, as St Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us …”


Settling In

The eerie feeling of existing in parallel universes is beginning to fade as I slowly readjust to living in just one of them, and wriggle my way back into my Swiss niche. Picking up the threads after a lengthy absence is always demanding: some are permanently severed, some are frayed, yet other bonds are still strong. Had you asked me for a forecast five years ago, I would never have dreamt of all the events and circumstances that lay before me, and yet I wonder if there was some vague prescience that impelled me to start blogging in September 2011: was there a sense that changes were afoot? That I would be glad of an outlet among all the ups and downs ahead of me, and the chance to keep some kind of record?

One of the biggest challenges I now face is to reprise my role as Granny – in particular, as Great-Granny. My eldest granddaughter’s little brood know who I am, but they don’t really know me personally yet and so we are gingerly feeling our way into a relationship. It’s easy with the youngest, who is still a toddler and at 18 months very open and friendly to everyone. Play with him and he’s your pal. I’m hopeful that the new baby – due in November – will also accept me from the start.

The two older ones, however, are more reserved and not yet totally willing to put their trust in this strange woman who doesn’t really speak their language. My great-grandson was three when I left to live in England, his sister just a couple of months old. We have had sporadic contact via FaceTime and they have visited England a few times during the last four years, but I am still really unfamiliar to them and even though I am now back in Switzerland I live about an hour and a half distant from their house so we don’t see each other often.

It was a surprise to them to find that I have a permanent home here: “Is this your holiday apartment?” was an understandable question, as they had only met me at my mother’s and they assumed I lived in England. Fortunately, we have a very nice children’s playground in the park down the road, so that’s an attraction, and there are friendly little squirrels in the park itself that will come and take food from your hand. I feel rather like a suitor, trying to woo this little Hänsel and Gretel, and hoping they don’t cast me in the role of the wicked witch!

When my granddaughter suggested they should come over and visit me on Saturday, I was very pleased and decided it would be fun to invite them to a nearby facility that houses birds of prey. The birds – ranging from various species of owl to majestic eagles, together with falcons, exotic raptors and vultures– are kept in large airy cages, and there is a grassy expanse of parkland all around. In one corner there is a barbecue pit with tables and seats, trees and a parasol, so you can bring your own picnic.



My granddaughter, always highly organised and efficient, had brought a copious picnic with sausages that she and her eight-year-old son grilled (the wood, charcoal and all necessary implements were provided) and we lunched beneath the watchful eyes of the eagles. I felt rather guilty at eating hard-boiled eggs so blatantly in front of them, but my conscience was salved later when I discovered that many of the birds are fed on young chicks so cannibalism is normal for them.


After we had eaten lunch, splashed in the water trough and inspected all the birds in their cages, we took our seats for the “Show”, a demonstration by the couple who run this sanctuary, where the children had the opportunity to stroke the silky soft feathers of an owl and see the other birds up close as they swooped to and fro in the arena and hopped about among the spectators. A little too much talk by the presenter for the children’s liking – far too much information for them – but they were impressed by the birds and enjoyed petting the miniature goats in a special enclosure at the opposite end of the park.

I’m afraid I failed the final test, though: on arrival at my apartment, the kids were hungry again and my fridge was empty apart from half a pineapple, a tomato, milk and butter. No use explaining that, living alone, I don’t need a full fridge. Luckily their mother still had some bread rolls left from the picnic so the rumbling tummies were temporarily stilled by bread, butter and honey with chunks of pineapple and a glass of milk. Next time, I had better be prepared! Or they really will class me as the wicked witch who starves them!