English As She Should Be Spoke

Over the course of a lifetime, I’ve seen many strange messages written on the back of lavatory doors, and as a translator and former language teacher, I’m super sensitive to quirky formulations in any of the languages in which I’m proficient, so when I saw this in a public toilet I just had to snap it for posterity.

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Rhyming couplets are a popular form of humorous doggerel in German, but sadly, a literal translation into the other languages with no rhyme or rhythm just results in puzzlement. The humour is also lost. Are you supposed to sweep the place? Not deface the walls with graffiti?  No, just look back at the lavatory bowl and if necessary, use the brush to wipe it clean in consideration of the person who will be following you here. A request to leave the place as you would wish to find it. But I wonder how many English, Italian or French speakers actually understood this, if they didn’t speak German? Did anyone attempt to clean the toilet with a broom (scopa, balai)?

Through the years, I have acquired a small collection of these awkward translations. One that made me giggle was on a menu in Brittany, where croque-monsieur was translated fairly adequately into English as “ham and cheese on toast” and then into German as “Schinken und Käse am Trinkspruch”. For non-German-speakers, the word “Trinkspruch” is indeed toast,  but refers to raising your glass to drink to a person’s health – “toast” in the non-bread sense.

Another one from Brittany:

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Here the sense is clear enough, and I trust that any English speakers on “earing the audio signal” were not drowned. Someone must have commented on this sign, as it was later removed and replaced by a version in perfectly correct English.

The following label adorned a pair of jeans I once bought:

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I was never able to confirm whether the expert ‘s tasting was accurate, as I don’t ride, but I don’t recall deriving any particular pleasure in the street from wearing this garment!

Finally, a notice enclosed with a packet of tea, beautifully calligraphed in Chinese on the reverse, that did indeed afford my mother “exceedingly noble enjoyment”. She wasn’t so impressed by the tea, but did like the idea of “merrily drinking” it. We never discovered if it really did enlighten drunkenness and cure sunstroke.

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Move Over, R2-D2!

“Aha,” I thought, as I turned the corner of the house and spotted a dark grey entity lurking in the corner of the lawn. “The robot lawnmower has arrived.” But why wasn’t it moving? My neighbour informed me that it had run up against the wall and exhausted all its energy in trying to escape, so now its battery was flat. We pay a man to do our garden, so like my neighbours, I waited for him to come by and pop the little mower into its docking station.

Two days later, it was still stuck in the same place and in the meantime I had read through all my post and discovered that my neighbours and I had forked out four thousand Swiss franks for the thing, described as an “Auto Mover” on the receipt (obviously not written by an English speaker – it certainly didn’t appear to be a mover, though maybe it would turn out to be a mower eventually). At that price, it ought to work – not only cutting the grass but bringing me a cup of tea and some biscuits when I sit outside, or even a G&T at Happy Hour.

I picked it up and carried it to its kennel, shoved its nose in as far as it would go, and left it. According to my friend who also has one of these little helpers, it should take about 45 minutes to charge its battery. That was on Friday evening.

On Saturday, there was no sign of life from it. It remained dormant throughout the entire day and night, and comatose on Sunday. I decided to wait and phone the gardener on Monday morning, and worried that maybe I had docked it incorrectly. My neighbours, its co-owners, would not be happy if I had done something that invalidated the guarantee right at the start of its career with us.

Come Monday, I decided to have my breakfast first, before doing anything requiring any effort. As I sat outside sipping my coffee, I suddenly heard an unfamiliar but not unpleasant buzzing and rumbling: and there was the Auto Mover steadily approaching, munching at the grass as it came.  It paused next to my table.IMG_1135.JPG“Hello! “ I exclaimed with a smile, “So you are working after all!” and then I realised that if anyone was within earshot, they would be wondering why I was addressing this inanimate object in such a friendly manner. Did I say inanimate object? No, that’s really not true. There is something about robots that is very lifelike, and this one certainly seemed on a par with a little dog, or at the very least a Henry vacuum cleaner. I had a wild desire to paint a little face onto it. It really does need some eyes to see its way around.

I must have sat watching it for a good ten minutes, fascinated, trying to figure out how it knows where to go. A straight line, then a sudden turn to the right, straight ahead again, then a diagonal that brings it up against the hedge where it turns on its heel and runs along parallel to the hedge for a while, then an about-turn and back in a different diagonal … It appeared to do a little dance at one point, pirouetting on the path before taking off onto the grass border on the opposite side of the paving.

But why had it taken so long to charge its battery? Then it dawned on me. Today was Monday. I had docked it on Friday. This is Switzerland, where weekends and especially Sundays are sacrosanct: unlike in uncivilised Anglo-Saxon countries, you do NOT wash your car or work in your garden at the weekend. So our little mower, in good law-abiding Swiss fashion, has been programmed to observe both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath!

Inanimate object? No way! It runs around indefatigably even in the rain, a busy little herbivore, and every time it passes my French window I greet it warmly. And if it gets stuck again, I shall rescue it and speak words of comfort into its little plastic ears.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside …

Where has the time gone? My six weeks in Paradise flew by far too fast, but I do have an impressive suntan to show for it, and having had so much exercise, I am looking and feeling fitter than I have done for a very long time. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all these blessings, but am extremely grateful.  Especially for these wheels and the swimming pool. (Note the fancy pants!)

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The swimming pool seems to have been an insider tip, frequented by very few – in fact mostly the same little clique of around half a dozen regulars. We became very pally, and something of a mini support group for one another. The subversive submergibles!

On occasion, we were joined by some of the local birds – crows, doves and egrets – who not only bathed with us but also drank from the pool, obviously having developed a taste for chlorine. I managed to snap this little chap one afternoon, who was not at all fazed by the humans polluting his drinking water.

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Riding the tricycle afforded the chance to see plenty of wildlife that I wouldn’t have encountered had I been in a car, starting with this turtle trundling merrily across the road to join the alligators in the artificial lake.

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Walks along the shore brought beautiful shells and a gorgeous (dead) blue crab that had been colonised, presumably while still alive. An hour or two later, the colours had almost entirely disappeared.

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No dolphins this time, but plenty of pelicans, swimming, flying, waddling, and obviously thriving, and those cute little sandpipers racing along like clockwork toys.

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Some spectacular sunsets, of course, often enjoyed with a gin and tonic on the lanai. Lotos eaters indeed!

And now I’m back home in Switzerland, with a handful of photos and a suitcaseful of bargains from the thrift shop to remind me of a very enjoyable holiday. Another kind of Paradise, and a very different life to settle into.

Serendipity Strikes Again!

IMG_0990.JPGThe Sunshine State is living up to its name. Well, yes, we did have a downpour on Saturday night and there have been one or two short showers since, but that was very welcome rain. Now we are sweltering again, and grateful for the breezes that sway the palm trees and make air-conditioning unnecessary in this house.

My flight here was uneventful, but on arrival I found my luggage had been left behind somewhere. I came from snowy Switzerland wearing jeans and a cotton sweater, but those were too warm to wear here in Florida. My practical friend whose holiday home I’m sharing goes everywhere by bike on the island, and so has no car. She called an angel in disguise who came over early the day after I got here and drove us to an upmarket thrift store, where everything was being sold at half price.

I acquired a complete new wardrobe – shirts, shorts, tops, a tankini and underwear – for only $26! My friend takes the same size in shoes as I do, so I was able to borrow sandals and crocs from her. By the time my suitcase did arrive, two days after me, I had been to this special boutique several times and could almost have managed without anything I had packed. Guardian angels working overtime!

Stupidly, I had packed my medication in my suitcase, something I hardly ever do, but mercifully I had a prescription on my laptop that my GP had sent me. Alas, American pharmacies refuse to fill prescriptions from foreign physicians but then it turned out that another friend of my hostess is on the same dose of thyroxin as I am, so even if my luggage had been completely lost, I would have been able to borrow from her.  As it was, I only missed one day.

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My energy levels were boosted by all this excitement and I realised that if I’m to get out of the house at all, I need to learn to ride the tricycle that my kind friend has bought for my use here. Why not a bike? Because she knows that I am a public danger on the roads on a bike, so thought a trike would be better for me.

I was sceptical, and it did take a bit of practice, as you need different skills to ride a trike, but once the saddle had been adjusted to a comfortable position for me, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is. I did a 10km ride the next day, and have been happily pedalling around ever since.

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My little chariot has a basket on the back, so I can transport groceries etc. as well as the stuff I need on the beach. And though it would probably take me half an hour to walk to the beach, on my tricycle it’s only about 10 minutes. Of course, the island is flat which also makes it easier. I don’t know how I would cope in more undulating country, but there are beautiful bike paths alongside the busier roads, and so little traffic on the side roads that I feel quite safe. trundling along there.

Where we live is near the 19th hole of the golf course, where there is a convenient swimming pool – my friend is an associate member, which allows her to take me along too. The landscaping is very pretty, and a haven for wild life. We were woken this morning by an alligator in rut, dancing around in the little lake and bellowing his serenade to any female within twenty miles.

In contrast, I have also seen a dainty  little rabbit mama with her baby grazing at the water’s edge, and an osprey flailing its wings in a kind of breast-stroke as it swam through the water. First impression: that bird is in trouble and about to drown. When he came ashore, we saw he had a trophy fish too big to transport any other way. He certainly couldn’t have flown with it. A pelican that settled himself down in roughly the same spot a day or two later was driven away from this particular territory by two large crows dive-bombing him persistently. And we have a steady sequence of herons, ibis, egrets and many other natives to observe.

IMG_0951.JPGI’ve also had the pleasure of attending a Blue Grass concert, and a dog’s birthday party – the latter is one of those “only in America!” events, where the guest dogs appeared in fancy dress.

It certainly looks as if I’ve joined the Lotos-Eaters!

Catch Me If You Can …

“You need something to look forward to,” declared my best friend at the beginning of January, assessing my black eye. “Come and spend some time with me in Florida.” I looked out at the snow-covered landscape and we sat down there and then and booked me a flight. The end of April seemed a long way off in the future.

Then, my eldest granddaughter proposed a trip to our holiday home on the north coast of Brittany, with her children and my daughter. Granddaughters Two and Three said they would also like to join us – sadly, Granddaughter Three couldn’t get time off work, but the rest of us were able to set off on 2 April, a jolly convoy of females plus my two great-grandsons. My son-in-law was able to follow a week later, so we have had a very full little house, but there was room for everyone, and no problems with the sleeping arrangements.

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IMG_0836.JPGI am still in awe that with four generations in such a small space, we had such a harmonious time; we have several alpha types in our midst (I won’t say bossy boots) yet all functioned perfectly as a team and if there were any disagreements,I wasn’t aware of them – apart from the two-year-old’s occasional short-lived tantrums, which are to be expected at that age. He was startled out of one of them when he flung himself on his face on the beach – nose and mouth filled with sand came as an unpleasant surprise!

The death of my mother in February and the subsequent chasing around organising so many things have left me in a kind of zombie state: I have been running on adrenaline for so long, and suddenly all the tiredness and exhaustion that I had been defying has crashed the barriers and overwhelmed me. I really needed that break.

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sunrise …

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We returned from springtime in Brittany in full bloom, with two weeks of sunshine, sea and sand (incredibly, no rain!) to a cold wet Switzerland, and today it’s actually snowing. Well, admittedly, we are at an elevation of 500 m above sea level, but snow …

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And my friend reports from Florida that they’re having a heatwave …

I’m wondering if I simply shouldn’t have just stayed in Brittany!

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Elsie Williams, 9 May 1916 – 16 February 2017

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Taken just before her hundredth birthday, May 2016

When the expected happens unexpectedly, it still comes as a shock. Watching my mother dwindle, physically and mentally, over the last year has been painful, even distressing at times, and especially since she was obliged to give up her last shred of independence and move into a care home. Loss of mobility and no sense of purpose were hard to bear for a woman who spent her life looking after others. Her indomitable spirit kept her going, even as her body shrank and her mind sometimes became confused, and she always had a smile and a song on her lips. She was loved by the staff and residents in her new abode, but never really felt at home there and always longed to be back in her own four walls, in the house she had lived in since 1938. Alas, that wasn’t possible.

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It was a great joy for her to be able to hold her newest great-great-grandchild in her arms, give her a cuddle and sing to her at the beginning of February, when her great-granddaughter visited with two of her brood. We knew that she was fading fast, and are so grateful for this meeting and the pleasure it gave her.

It was a comfort for us who were with her towards the end that the hospital Chaplain was able to come and pray with her and us and bless her. She lingered a little longer, but finally had no more strength to fight and she died just after 7.30 am on Thursday, 16 February 2017, painlessly and peacefully. She was an amazing lady, who touched many lives and inspired many people. Tributes are pouring in, and I will eventually get around to thanking everyone, but for the moment we are trying to get used to her absence, to the ache left by her departure from her earthly life, and the huge gap that this tiny woman has left in our lives.

Verses 22-23 in chapter 5 of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians list the fruits of the Spirit:
“…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”
All of these were manifest in the lady I was privileged and blessed to call my mother.

The quote that she wanted in her memorial is this:

“There is a land of the living
and a land of the dead
and the bridge is love,
the only survival,
the only meaning.“

 Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Long Dark Twilight Of The Soul Without A Signal

img_0688Alone in its dark little cupboard, with ne’er a bang nor a whimper, suddenly it died. I was checking out possible forefathers on ancestry.com at the time, so perhaps it gave up the ghost in sympathy. I don’t know, but I’m not aware of any obvious reason why all at once the message “YOU ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET” should flash up onto my screen. Whatever the cause, my router was no longer responsive.

I went through the usual routine of switching off and on again, disconnecting and reconnecting all the cables and finally giving it a thump, but all my CPR was in vain. I called the telephone helpline and a very polite gentleman called Trevor with a Caribbean accent took me through a catalogue of actions which all availed nought.

“I am very sorry ma’am,” he finally admitted, “but I can’t find an online solution. I’ll arrange for an engineer to call and see what the problem is. Goodbye, ma’am.” This all happened Tuesday evening, last week, around 9 pm. The engineer (have you noticed? They are no longer technicians, all engineers) will call sometime on Monday morning – or maybe Monday afternoon. My helpline guru warned me that if the problem was not a technical one, I would have to pay a large fee, but that is not an issue: I need wifi! It’s scary how desperately I need wifi. But – wait until MONDAY??? Six days???

“Very sorry ma’am. I wish you a very good evening, ma’am.”

Oh yes. If I hadn’t already noticed, this was evidence that I’m back in Bllghty! Just for a visit, as my mother’s condition has been deteriorating and I need to be on hand. Of course, I have spent most of the past year back home in Switzerland, and have quickly become accustomed once more to systems that work. If something goes wrong, an expert appears on my doorstep as soon as summoned, like a genie from a bottle, and fixes it. Swiss call-out charges are high, but prompt service is worth paying for.  I had forgotten that “EFF–I-Ci-EN-CY” is no longer a current term in the English language. Is “Blighty” derived from “Blight”?

Meanwhile, this huge jolt makes me very much aware of how much I need my broadband. No Internet. Not only no ancestry.com and no Google allowing me to look things up or catch up on current events, but also no e-mails, no social media, no Skype or FaceTime, no WhatsApp, no Siri: oh dear, how isolated I feel! How can I communicate with people?

Er, ahem! Look, there’s the phone! Oh yes! Good old-fashioned phone! I have both a landline and an iPhone, so surely I’m not so cut off from civilisation. Ah, but most of the people I want to talk to are abroad and if I use the phone for international calls, it’s going to be expensive. Can I claim compensation from the phone company for these wifi-less days, the inconvenience and the extra costs incurred due to having to use the landline?

Of course, the scariest thing about all this is the realisation that I have become so dependent on wifi. Not so many years ago, whenever I was in England, I was quite happy to take a five-minute walk once a week to the public library and use their PC for an hour. That was more than sufficient, and occasionally they would print stuff out for me, too. Now I’m running around like a headless chicken with my iPad, looking for a hot-spot so that I can download my e-mails, many of which will be junk. But I need to see them, need to know who is trying to reach me, and reply instantly. Don’t I?

What a long way we have come from my childhood and youth, when hardly anyone I knew had a phone, and we wrote letters, real letters that we took to the pillar box, to be delivered the same day if the addressee was local, or by the next day if further afield. We ordered our lives, made plans in advance, scheduled our activities, arranged meeting places and times, and it all seemed to work smoothly. The whole pace of life was more leisurely and predictable. Did our hearts beat more slowly? Were there really more hours in the day, more days in the week, more weeks in the year? Is the world really more chaotic nowadays? Or is that simply a common illusion as we grow older?

A voice-mail message from Trevor on Friday advised me that the problem was outside my home, and the ingenious were going to fix it. (Ingenious? Engineers in Caribbean pronunciation, I realised as I listened to the message for the third time. I like that, and will henceforth adopt that pronunciation.) So I didn’t have to hang around all day waiting for the ingenious to call. Or the genies to leave their bottle, come to that.

When I still had no signal by last Tuesday, a week after it disappeared, I called the helpline once more. A soft American voice this time, a man called Lee.  He put me through to the technical helpdesk – a competent-sounding lady who identified herself as Chanu, with a pretty Madame Butterfly accent and I felt very guilty at having constantly to ask her to repeat herself. She informed me that the external fault had been rectified and it was therefore, after all, my hub that was defective. She generously offered to send me a new one, free of charge. It would come by post and should be here by the end of the week.

Does the fact that I am on first-name terms with half the helpline staff make it any easier to bear? Am I supposed to think that, because we are now good pals, they are pulling out all the stops  to get me reconnected? I’m not that naïve.  One thing is in their favour, though: none of them appear to be European, so even with Brexit their jobs appear safe. And maybe they will eventually all learn to speak English intelligibly.

My eldest granddaughter arrived with two of her brood of four on Tuesday evening. I lamented the loss of the wifi to her, and she looked at my router. No power. She pressed the button on the side, and hey presto! Everything worked!

The new router arrived on Wednesday afternoon.