Swissification: Suite but not quite Fin

Ruins of Freudenberg Castle, Bad Ragaz (credit

Up before dawn for six Saturdays running, in order to catch the train and attend the Staatskunde courses – a total of over 15 hours in class plus plenty of extra reading to tax my poor brain – that in itself should qualify me for Swiss citizenship! But no, on completion of this course in December I had to do a written test, an “Aptitude Test” worth a maximum of 70 points (I knew immediately I had lost at least 6 or 7, due to my brain going blank on some very simple questions, but it turned out I had 86% correct) and now in January attend a chatty interview just to make sure I’m worthy of acceptance in this village.

Yes, my friends, I am very pleased and proud that soon I shall to be able to proclaim “i bin Schwyzerin / je suis Suissesse” and I look forward eagerly to holding my ID card and red passport in my hot little hands. There is, of course, another step to go: I have passed the test, and the village elders have put in their recommendation on my behalf, but it will now take until the autumn before the powers that be in Bern will grant me that little red booklet. I confess that I pointed out to my interviewing panel that, given my age, it would be nice to get it before I pop my clogs!

I grumbled about this course beforehand but now I wish all Swiss had to do it and pass this test in order to retain their Swiss citizenship! It‘s an excellent idea, and I’m glad I did it. Having been here for almost half a century, you’d think I’d have known almost everything there is to know about this unique little country, but no, far from it – every single day I discover and learn something new. I’m sorry for all those people born Swiss who haven’t delved into the details of their native land: it’s an enriching experience. And it has increased my admiration for this landlocked island squeezed in among its louder, more notorious neighbours, for keeping its identity and autonomy for so many centuries.

Ask anyone what they know about the history of Switzerland, and most will mention Wilhelm Tell – who is probably mythical – and maybe that famous Swiss neutrality that kept its citizens out of two world wars. “Switzerland has no history,” a French friend once told me very disparagingly. “It’s just one big money-laundering machine.” And there’s the famous quote from Orson Welles about cuckoo clocks.

But look at this place: how, with its multicultural population and its impossible terrain, did it ever come to be a country in its own right, and even more amazingly, how did it manage to stay a united country, with such a strong sense of national identity? Of course it has a history, and a very interesting one at that.

The Swiss survived Julius Caesar, the Habsburgs (who started out Swiss – their family castle is still standing above the Autobahn tunnel in Aargau), Napoleon and Hitler. In earlier times, being strong and tough, young Swiss men were much sought after as mercenaries in foreign armies (including the Vatican’s Swiss Guard). Swiss history is full of bloody clashes between feuding lords and bishops, greedy dukes and earls, with fiefs changing hands every decade. Eventually, these arguments seem to have been settled and common sense allowed to prevail, but events within Switzerland had few international repercussions, so are largely ignored.

Take the story of Switzerland’s nineteenth century civil war, the Sonderbundkrieg. This was the last war on Swiss territory and lasted exactly one month, the month of November 1847 to be precise. 130 fatalities recorded. Then, typically Swiss, a compromise was reached resulting in a new constitution. The general appointed to put down the conservative rebels – and who didn’t want the job and kept turning it down –  was the famous Henri Dufour, who later founded the Red Cross. Somehow, this story encapsulates much of what is typical for Switzerland. I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago, probably because it had no immediate impact outside the country … or did it? Just a few months later, in 1848, most of Europe exploded in revolution …  

So, as I said, I discover something new every day about this country. Today? Well, all along the Rhine are ruins of mediaeval fortresses and our village actually has two. One is up on the mountainside and became home to the Abbot who was the feudal lord of most of the villagers, the other housed the feudal lord of the rest of the village and is on a small hill covered in vineyards nearer the river. This morning I found out not only some of the history of this castle, but also the bare bones of a legend: somewhere in the castle there is imprisoned a beautiful banished damsel, waiting to be rescued by a capable young man who not only gets the girl but also a legendary hidden treasure. Not a particularly original tale, but how exciting to live virtually next door to such a place!

Why hasn’t our Tourist Office exploited this story? Probably because this castle is also used every summer for an open-air rock festival, which attracts masses of young people. Who knows, maybe some of the lads might start trying to locate the mysterious captive and her treasure – and that could lead to vandalism. Or maybe, more mundanely, there are no romantics left.

Incidentally, this castle is called Freudenberg, which means Mount Joyful. At the end of December, I travelled here with my daughter and son-in-law after visiitng Heitertal = Cheerful Valley. My son-in-law’s surname means Happy, my daughter’s middle name is Joy, and their dog is called Merry. Could there be a more felicitous omen?  

Adapt or Die

Life means change. Nothing alive stays the same, though some living things undergo greater transformations than others – think caterpillar to butterfly, tadpole to frog, acorn to oak tree, sweet baby to stroppy teenager – so we shouldn’t really be surprised when we look in the mirror one day, maybe with a strong north light shining on our face, and see that all those wrinkles and sagging muscles have multiplied overnight.

It happens when playing with a small child that you get down on your knees and suddenly can’t get up again unaided. Then when you bend down one morning your hands only reach as far as your shins or ankles and your toes have become inaccessible. Worse still, your grandchild explains his maths homework to you and try as you will, none of it makes any sense. Has your brain seized up? Do you even remember how you would have solved that particular problem when you were his age?

Aging can be a challenge, but we have to accept that it’s usually better than the only current alternative (until the bio-gerontologists discover a cure). Optimists are generally believed to live longer than pessimists, so it probably helps to look on the bright side and count your blessings if you want to live to your maximum potential. That probably means accepting that few of us at 70 can still do the splits, climb a tree or turn a cartwheel. Great for those who can, of course! And where I used to be able to sing almost anything, my range and volume are now limited to just two octaves with a growl at one end and a squeak at the other.

As I see my biological clock racing up towards my next round birthday, I’m grateful for the fact that I can still swim a few lengths of the pool, walk leisurely around my local park instead of hiking in the mountains, and climb the stairs rather than take the lift – and so I continue to do those things as long as my failing body allows. Perhaps it also helps to have a goal. My ambition is to celebrate my 80th birthday with a ride on the Bethesda zip wire at Penrhyn Quarry – being overweight and far from limber shouldn’t matter here as I’ll be trussed up like a mummy, and I have offers from younger family members to accompany me for moral support (celebrating turning 30 and 65 respectively). There’s a while to go yet, so fingers crossed.

What strikes me as I get older is that time passes more quickly. As a girl, I could pack numerous nonstop activities into a day, a weekend, or a fortnight’s holiday. Nowadays, I choose between doing my housework or going to the shops. There’s no longer time to do both. Or so it seems. If I visit a friend in the afternoon, I no longer schedule going on to do something else in the evening. I am very aware that my time is running out as I lose old friends one after the other to disabilities, dementia and death. My conclusion: time is running out, so do it now!

Taking stock of my remaining capabilities I realise that, probably out of sheer laziness, I am neglecting certain talents and abilities that I know I possess. Yes, I am still trying to exercise my brain by writing and translating, doing killer sudokus, reading, researching family trees and diving down any other rabbit hole that takes my fancy. What I’m neglecting is my artistic and creative ability.

Crochet is a relaxing hobby, and I’m pleased that I can still produce useful items, but I no longer see well enough to thread a needle so I have given up sewing, doing embroidery, patchwork, appliqué work or tapestry. My fingers nowadays are all thumbs when it comes to crafts, and superglue is my worst enemy, so those are out too.

It’s been a very long time since I opened a box of paints or crayons, or squeezed a few tubes of paint. I have the media, materials, canvases, paper, and there are wonderful subjects for painting and drawing all around me, but I lack – what? True inspiration? Courage? Confidence? The last time I tried, I was so dissatisfied with my efforts I abandoned the work in despair. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I have never in all my life ever managed to keep them, but maybe this year I’ll give myself the kick in the pants I need and pick up a paintbrush.

This post has rambled off course, just as my thoughts frequently do nowadays. What I set out to say was that as long as we continue to live, we have to accept that we are no longer the person we used to be. This means accepting who we are becoming, and as we get more ancient maybe finding a meaning and purpose in our lives that has lain dormant or that we never suspected existed.

Remember Grandma Moses!

Something is rotten …

… Not necessarily in the state of Denmark, but in the state of confusion on my laptop. My first impulse was to blame WordPress – always the scapegoat – but the White Screen of Death appears only on my Mac, when I try to write or edit. On my tablet and phone I can still get backstage and access all the other things. Just not on the Mac.

However, this isn’t as user-friendly as the laptop, so if anyone out there has any useful advice I’d be very grateful. Presumably, there’s some simple tweak.

The problem is, on my Mac I can load only my posts. Everything else – edit, write, My sites, reader, stats etc – opens a blank screen. I assume it’s a Mac problem because on my iPad and iPhone these are all accessible.

Any ideas, anyone?? Thank you!

The need to forgive

i mentiond in my last post that I had finished translating another book, so this is just to satisfy any curiosity which that may have aroused. If you have been following me for a long time, you may remember that back in 2013, 2015 and 2016 I reported on an African family separated by the war in Rwanda who were finally, after several years, reunited here in Switzerland.

The posts were Perseverance Rewarded, When life becomes a fairy tale, Book launch and Book launch: Postscript.

My friend Josêphine and her husband Désirė described their traumatic experiences and adventures in a book published first in German as Auf der Flucht getrennt which I translated into English under the rather lame title of On The Run (see my blog post Synopsis of On The Run in 2016 – ISBN 978-3-7407-1525-0, available as paperback or Kindle edition from

A few months ago, friends who had spent many years as missionaries in Africa asked me if I would be interested in tackling a book that had just come out in French, with another story from Rwanda. Once again, it’s a Christian testimony by an amazing woman. The title in French is Pourquoi je leur ai pardonnė, and is also available from Amazon (ISBN 978-2-8399-2477-6) for those of you who read French. The autthor, Apollne Dukuzemariya, has also given a TV interview that can be viewed here The English version will hopefully be published later this year. Here’s the synopsis:

Rwanda1994. Pastor’s wife Apolline Dukuzemariya is beaten andg butchered by militia who leave her for dead in front of her children. Physicians doubt she can survive with an open skull and without suitable treatment; her life hangs on a thread, while murderous raids contnue daily even inside the hospital. Despite all odds, she holds onto life.

Eventually, Apolline is able to get to Europe on humanitarian grounds thanks to the intervention of long-time mssionary friends. The long slow healng process allows her opportunity to reflect, read and pray. Today she is able to talk about the inner workings of her soul and spirit that led to this miraculous outcome.She also describes her childhood, her vocation to become a nun that turned out so differently, her marriage and the events that prepared her to face the indescribable. Far from being a chronicle of the genocide, this book is the story of a woman’s spectacular resilience and those who accompanied her on her journey, making her triumph possible. A first-class testimony to the power of forgiveness in a generation that, more than ever, needs reminding of what it means to forgive.


2020: Happy New Year

Giessensee, Bad Ragaz, covered in ice on 1.1.2020

Sorry I’m a day late – maybe even two days late if you are in Australia – but 2020 is such a satisfying kind of number that I just have to wish my readers a really happy and healthy new year.

I’m late because I was hurrying to meet a deadline I had set myself, to finish the translation of a book (that I started in November) by the end of 2019. Actually. I have until Easter for this but I wanted to prove something to myself I suppose, and anyway I was enjoying the work. Sadly, I needed one extra day, so this post got postponed. But the book is finished, all 200 pages, and I have also done the initial proofreading. Time to hand it over to a beta reader now.

I would probably have finished it even earlier if I hadn’t been so obsessed during December by using up all the wool in my stash and crocheting things that nobody really needs – but they all very politely said Thank You Very Much when presented with their handmade scarves, beanies, wrist-warmers and cowls at Christmas.

The only one who showed true enthusiasm was my great-grandson who seized on the bobble-topped beanie and wore it like a crown throughout my visit. Sweet!

It’s been a while since I presented my crochet projects, so here’s a summary:

Back in September, it was my granddaughter’s 13th wedding anniversary for which the gift is traditionally lace but can also be textiles. Their wedding was marked by masses of sunflowers, and so I crocheted a sunflower granny-square blanket for them. To my chagrin, I seem to have squared the circle multiple times. The round sunflower motifs all turned out squarish when linked together, but my granddaughter was very gracious in her acceptance of the blanket.

From the leftovers I made an owl hat and a cowl for my youngest great-granddaughter’s third birthday in early December. Bald for a long time, she does now have hair but I seem to have started a mini-tradition of providing her with hats on her birthday. As she has very blue eyes and I also had some blue wool, she also got a second hat that actually is rather too big for her, but no doubt she’ll grow into it. Again, graciously received.

My next production was a scarf, a Christmas gift to a good friend who has played hostess to me many times over the past years and who has frequently provided me with a comfortable bed and breakfast when I was reluctant to travel home late by public transport.

Another scarf for my eight-year-old great-granddaughter enabled me to use up the remains of the white wool from the sunflower blanket (it’s always very difficult to calculate just how many skeins of each colour will be needed) brightened by a ball of purple that was lurking in the bottom of my bag, and a further skein of white superwash wool came in handy for a white cowl with black edging and matching wristlets – hopefully they will be useful to my granddaughter. I was practising a honeycomb effect stitch, but forgot to take a photo of these.

The rest made a trim on the brown bobble hat seized on by my great-grandson and a snood for my daughter’s cocker spaniel.

A second snood saw the end of some fluffy red wool and a short length of furry white: very Christmassy!

Why does a dog need a snood, you ask? Cockers have long ears that dangle in their food if they eat from a flat dish, so a snood enables these ears to be tucked in tidily and kept clean.  

I might market these, with a jingle:

Don’t dangle your ears in your food
Wear a snood!

Now what else? My neighbour has been very kind and considerate so she deserved recognition, and it took the form of a soft wool cowl. I just hope she isn’t one of those people who can’t bear wool on their skin. But she could also wear this as an Alice-band ear-warmer if she is.

I was myself the beneficiary of my next invention, using up some lovely soft silk-alpaca mix given to me by my daughter a while ago. The problem with this is that it’s a devil to undo – if you make a mistake you can’t easily go back and rectify it, so I was loth to try anything really fancy.

This was probably a good thing in the end. I made myself a plaited (or braided) cowl which turned out to be too big, so then I made a smaller one that fits inside the larger one. There was still enough wool left over to make a hat, which was rather too close-fitting and made my head look like a skull, so I made some extra braids to go around it and then was fortunate enough to find a rabbit-fur pompom at the Christmas market that went perfectly with it. I hesitated to buy real fur, but the lady selling these items assured me – and I believed her – that they were all from domestic rabbits that had been butchered and eaten. So my conscience is clear on that score.

Those were all my pre-Christmas projects. Sitting around quietly on Boxing Day, with my daughter knitting as usual, and having exhausted my own stash, I asked if she had any spare yarn that I could play with. She gave me a skein of mustard wool and I made her a beanie (we bought her a fake fur pompom for that, and again I forgot to take a photo). As we were buying the pompom I also couldn’t resist some quite thick multi-coloured wool that required a size 7 hook, so that too went very fast and I now have a very useful short poncho.

And the very last item is a cable-stitch headband made from a leftover ball of teal-coloured wool.

That, then is my long excuse for being late with my new year greetings. One last photo, taken on 1st January 2020, as proof that we have beavers in our local pond. Most trees near the water are now wearing chicken-wire skirts to protect them. Maybe I could revive the custom of yarn bombing?

Merry Christmas!

According to my stats, I now have over 200 followers, a figure I find hard to believe since it’s always the same faithful few who deign to pass comment. Be that as it may, I can’t let the season pass without wishing everyone who looks in here – whether 1, 2 or 200 of you – a Merry Christmas, frohe Weihnachten, joyeux Noël, buon Natale, legreivlas fiastas da Nadal, feliz Navidad, god Jul ….

May you know the joy, peace and love that are celebrated at this time, and so urgently needed in today’s world.

Georg Friedrich Händel and Isaac Watts expressed it very well:

Trying to be a Rebel without a Cause

When I was fifteen I spent a lot of my spare time with a girl called June, mostly going to the cinema on Saturday evenings and even, on one memorable occasion, taking the bus to Walsall on a Saturday afternoon to join a jazz club. June’s parents were very strict with her, but they assumed I was a good steadying influence and so she was allowed out with me. We arrived at this place that someone had told June about, which was members only (how exclusive!), paid our half-crown to join and were about to go through the green baize door into the club when the police arrived and cordoned us all off.

I never found out what exactly triggered the raid – it was probably a drugs bust – but the police took our names, addresses and dates of birth and told us to clear off home. June was terrified. What if the police followed it up with a visit to her parents and they found out she had been to a den of iniquity? We went back to my house, where my mother gave us a cup of tea and soothed June’s hysterics. We hadn’t done anything wrong – but half-a-crown was a big chunk out of our pocket money, and we hadn’t even got behind the green door!

I had discovered jazz when I was 13, and went with the school Music Society to hear Humphrey Lyttelton at Birmingham Town Hall. It was a revelation. From that moment on, I was a devotee and, like many of my classmates, superciliously scathing about rock ‘n’ roll, which was just emerging.

However, when the film “Rock around the Clock” was distributed, there were riots in some cinemas where it was shown, with teenagers and Teddy Boys ripping out the seats in order to dance, so it was banned in our town. That made it irresistible. June and I sneaked off to see it in the next borough, in a packed cinema, where we had to stand at the back, but that had the advantage that we could hop around to the music in relative freedom without having to tear out any seats.

While we were bopping in the narrow space at the back of the stalls that night, we met two lads who offered to accompany us home. I don’t remember what happened to June and her cavalier, but the tall, fair-haired, nice-looking seventeen-year-old who escorted me back (even paying my fare on the bus) asked me to go to the pictures again with him the following Saturday. I was very flattered, and said yes. He gave me a very chaste kiss at the garden gate, and disappeared.

The following Saturday, I was all agog. I had a date! I didn’t dare tell my parents, knowing they wouldn’t approve of my having been more or less picked up at the Gaumont the previous week, but they assumed I was going with June so I didn’t actually have to lie to them. I just had to delay putting on my lipstick till I was around the corner, as my Dad most certainly wouldn’t have been happy if he’d known. I arrived at the cinema a few minutes early, and waited outside. Finally, a rather short, tubby young man in army uniform came up and introduced himself. “I’m a mate of Dave’s, he couldn’t come so I’m here instead.”

I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t know how to react. I numbly followed him into the cinema, where he bought tickets for seats in the middle stalls, and only as I sat down did I realise how humiliated and disrespected I felt. This was worse than being stood up! I was being treated like some sort of object to be passed around. I sat there seething. At one point the young soldier asked if he could put his arm around me and I snapped “NO!” breathing fire and ice. This poor lad, doing his national service and thinking he was going to strike lucky on his weekend leave, ended up having paid for two tickets and getting zilch in return. But even so, an eighteen-year-old ought to have known that you don’t treat a girl like that!

The film was “Somebody up there likes me” – not really an apt title for either of us that evening. At the end of the film, I didn’t even thank him but marched straight out to the bus stop and took myself home. The next time I went to the cinema, it was with June.