My Fishing Secret

It wasn’t every weekend, though in retrospect it feels like that. As a nine-year-old, it was what I looked forward to all week long. Grandpa would pick me up on Saturday evening after tea, and bring me home on Sunday in time for Mum’s high tea with its customary tinned salmon and salad followed by a Victoria sponge. Grandpa enjoyed those, too. In between those two tea-times was Grandpa-and-me-time.

Grandma gave me a cuddle when we arrived on Saturday, but on Sunday morning I never saw her. “I’m not getting up in the dark to make you two your breakfast on the one day of the week when I can have a lie-in,” she said, when I asked her about it. “Your Grandpa’s perfectly capable of that if he has to.”

He was, too. I usually woke up a few minutes before the alarm clock’s scream at 6 a.m. and Grandpa didn’t fuss about making me wash and brush my teeth. He made a big pot of tea, poured us two cups and the rest went into his thermos flask. At the same time he boiled us a couple of eggs – sometimes hard, sometimes soft – and cut thick slices of bread and butter that he smeared with Marmite. We drank our tea, ate the eggs with one doorstep slice of bread, butter and Marmite, and wrapped two more hefty Marmite sandwiches in greaseproof paper for our lunch. 

Then Grandpa’s fishing mate George would arrive in his van, always with the same question for me: “Got your stomach well-lined, ‘ave yer, Sonny?” and I would reply with the same answer every time: “Yes, George, good ol’ Marmite!” as I clambered into  the back of the van with the creels and fishing rods.

Usually, the sun rose during our drive to the river, so we could see by the dim early light where the best “holes” were. Grandpa and George always talked about “good holes”, the best little semi-circular hollows in the river bank where you could place your folding seat and settle down comfortably to wait for the fish to bite. Sometimes we found a good hole pretty quickly, other times it felt as if we’d walked miles before Grandpa said, “This’ll do!” and I could unpack my fishing tackle. 

My job was to put the maggots on the hook, which could be quite fiddly because the maggots didn’t really like it and weren’t always cooperative. We’d cast our lines and then sit back to watch the float bobbing about in the water, waiting for it to dip and signal that a fish had taken the bait. Sometimes it was a long wait, but there was always something interesting going on along the river bank, and though I always had one eye on the float, the other followed the activities of ducks and voles and whatever else was foraging in the undergrowth. After a while, Grandpa would nod towards the thermos flask and the packet of sandwiches and I’d silently pass them over to him. Then we’d have a quiet little picnic. 

One day, a bit of Marmite was transferred from my fingers to the maggot I was threading onto my hook. To my surprise, I had a bite almost immediately and hauled in a nice big perch. Was it a fluke? I carefully applied a smear of Marmite to my next maggot, and again a fish took it within seconds. Repeated the procedure, and another fish. Grandpa looked on in amazement. 

“What are you using for bait?” he asked. 

“Marmite.”

“Marmite?”

“Uh-uh!”

He smiled, and his next maggot also received a dab of the dark brown magic. It worked!

When George came by an hour or so later with his usual question of: “’Ad any luck, mate?” and we pulled up the keep-net to show him our bounty, he almost fell into the river.  He had been downstream from us and hadn’t had a single bite. “Bloody ‘ell!” was all he said. After that, Grandpa and I always added a smidgeon of Marmite to our bait, and it almost always worked. Fish like Marmite, we decided. We didn’t tell George our secret, though, and I don’t believe Grandpa ever let on to him even though he was his best friend.

Angling remained a hobby of mine long after I was grown up and Grandpa was no longer around. My wife, like my Grandma, left me to make my own breakfast on those days when I rose before dawn and made my way down to the river to take advantage of the fishes’ early morning hunger. I always made Marmite sandwiches to take with me, exactly as Grandpa had done. One day, on my return she asked me about this time-honoured custom.

“Why Marmite?”

“Well, “ I replied, “It’s for Grandpa. He loved it. And the fish do, too.”

“But you don’t normally eat it, only when you’re going fishing …”

“Sure! I told you, it’s for Grandpa. And the fish. To tell you the truth, I can’t stand the stuff.”

Uncle Harry Pops Up Again!

Previous posts about Uncle Harry:
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/seeking-uncle-harry/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/finding-uncle-harry-next-stage/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/the-trouble-with-harry/

My cousin in Sheffield has found an old photo of six men in crumpled suits lounging on some rocks, with the words “Sunday afternoon in Taltal” on the back. Taltal is in Chile, so this probably relates to my mother’s uncle, Harry Green. It also raises a lot of questions! 

The port of Taltal became famous for its copper mines in the mid 19th century, and later for its nitrate mines which were in operation until about 1930, so probably the men in the photo were employed at such a mine. What year is this? Which one is Harry? Is one of the others his brother-in-law Walter Evans, a turner, who went with him in 1914?

Nowadays, we tend to forget how long such a voyage would take in the first two decades of the last century, especially before the Panama Canal opened in August 1914. Steam ships travelled at a rate of 13 to 20 knots, and those going to and from England had to round Cape Horn, so the voyage could easily last up to three months depending on the conditions. I know that Uncle Harry made at least 3 trips to northern Chile on cargo ships between 1910 and 1920, but I haven’t been able to find any record of his departure from England in those years so don’t know how long he stayed each time. Harry wasn’t a tourist, that’s for sure, and probably was there for a year or more, working and earning a good salary. He is listed as a blacksmith on his return both from  Valparaiso on 12 December 1910 and from Taltal on 27 November 1914, and as a spring smith on his return from Mejillos on 16 November 1920.  

SS Ortega, a steamship of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, launched in 1906, scrapped in 1927. (Credit: Wikipedia) Uncle Harry returned to Liverpool on her in 1920.

In addition to these confirmed trips, I found a Mr H Green, engineer (no further details), who was a passenger on the SS Victoria, a ship that left Liverpool on 24 May 1906 bound for Taltal – is this our Harry Green, and is this how he set out to make his fortune? Harry wasn’t an engineer (which in those days referred to a man who drove or operated an engine) but as a smith he probably could turn his hand to driving steam engines, so we can’t rule out this possibility. If so, and this was his first trip to Chile, did he stay there from 1906 until 1910? 

There’s also a record for a man called Harry Green on a ship leaving Liverpool bound for Taltal in 1911 but I have no other details about him, either. Was this also Uncle Harry? If so, did he then stay there until 1914? That might explain why I haven’t found him in the 1911 census. Well, it’s taking a long time, but little by little, pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are coming together and slowly filling in the blanks.

A Century of Sewing Machines

Meaningful coincidences? Without having studied Jung’s theories of synchronicity, I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I have experienced plenty of serendipitous events that certainly support the hypothesis that “things happen for a reason”. Take my new sewing machine.

As I related in a recent post  I now have lovely new curtains in my living room. Fourteen metres of pinned-up hems waiting to be sewn. A daunting task for someone with poor eyesight who no longer has a sewing machine. How come I have no sewing machine? Well, actually I have, but it’s 1200 km away in our house in Brittany, so not much use to me here. 

In an exchange of text messages with my “girls” I mentioned that I was considering buying a self-threading machine, since threading needles – and especially sewing-machine needles – is a huge challenge for me and very frustrating. My granddaughter – who sews a lot – has such a machine in her impressive collection and gave me some advice, so I had a look online where there is a bewildering choice of incredibly sophisticated computerised contraptions offering all kinds of sewing services for which I have no need.

I thought of my mother’s sewing machine, a pretty little black enamelled Singer with gold appliqué designs all over it: you turned the handle and it sewed a line of lockstitch. That was all. There was nothing to adjust but the tension; it didn’t have any attachments and it didn’t make the coffee or tea. It served us both very well for many decades. (The model shown at the top of this post is very similar – read about it here.)

When I got married in the early sixties, my mother bought me an electric machine, also a Singer. This dark green wonder could stitch backwards as well as forwards, and also did a zigzag stitch. It sewed everything I needed – clothes, curtains, loose covers etc. – and came with me as I emigrated twice, which involved changing its plug from a German one to a British one and then to a Swiss one. In fact, it almost killed me when I changed it to Swiss. The colours of the wires didn’t match anything I had seen before, so I assumed brown was ground. It wasn’t, and I was thrown across the kitchen when I switched the machine on! The wiring was easily remedied, and I was luckily none the worse for my mistake.

I had this for about twenty years until my next machine, a state-of-the-art Swiss Bernina. That had plenty of bells and whistles: it did several different stitches, could make buttonholes, sew in zips, had a swing arm allowing it to darn and embroider – far more things than I needed. It also did excellent service for another twenty years or so, and was passed on to my daughter when she wanted to try out some of the fancier gimmicks. I then bought a simple little machine from the local supermarket, since my sewing was now almost entirely restricted to making curtains and cushions, and took it with me to Brittany (to make curtains and cushions) where it has stayed for the past ten years. 

So here I am now, looking for a self-threading machine that isn’t a computer so that I can hem my curtains. I found a relatively simple model online for CHF 150.-, and consulted the oracle (daughter and granddaughters) who thought it looked OK, but we were all very busy last week so I didn’t get around to ordering it. 

Fortunately! 

Because on Saturday I discovered that the discount chain Lidl was offering a limited number of self-threading Singer machines for just CHF 99.-! 

Oh, happy coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity, providence, guardian angels – you’ve done it again! I am now the proud owner of a pretty little white and blue Singer Serenade, considered very basic nowadays: it sews backwards and forwards, has 23 different stitches of varying length and depth, does zips, can make buttonholes and sew on buttons  – as much and more than I will ever need as I continue making curtains and cushions. 

My mother’s machine was made over 100 years ago. Although I press a pedal instead of turning a handle, the fundamental design is pretty much the same. Still the same complicated way of threading the yarn from the spool to the needle, and a round bobbin instead of a bullet-shaped one, but that too is threaded in the same way. Mr Isaac Singer would have no problem in recognising my little machine, though he might be surprised at how clever this new generation is! 

Four Generation Family Outing

We did it! Actually managed to get most of the clan together up a mountain, and have a wonderful four-generation time together celebrating three birthdays (13, 31 and 80) with exhilarating rides on the Floomzer summer toboggan run. This is a 2-kilometre track on the Flumserberg mountain that descends 250 m in a series of tunnels, curves, bridges, waves and 360-degree circles in a 2-person toboggan at speeds of up to 40 kmh. Watch this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLdGROngBdE&t=72s for a taste of the fun! Four of the six adults and four of the five kids were game for this adventure – Great-granny managed two descents, but the others did it four times and we all lived to tell the tale, grinning like Cheshire cats as we came away. 

That was really a super birthday present, but it then continued with another ride in a cable car for lunch up at the Panorama Restaurant at the top of the mountain, where the kids had fun on life-sized mechanical ponies.

The sign said that riders up to 100 kg could ride on these, so my grandson-in-law (celebrating his 31st birthday) couldn’t resist. He may be 2 m tall (7 feet) but he’s under 100kg! The kids also loved a raft they could pull across a shallow pond – of course, the littlest one had to miss her step and land in the water, but luckily it was only knee-deep and her pants had a zip around the leg just above the knee, allowing them to transform from trousers into shorts. 

Her boots were wet, but being Swiss she was happy to run around barefoot at first. Since we had three dogs with us, their owners had brought a supply of plastic poop-bags, and two of these made excellent substitutes for socks. So she was able to do the little hike after lunch with dry feet.

I haven’t been able to hike in the mountains now for a very long time, and am not expecting to be able to do any strenuous trails in future so have been missing that experience. However, this was really only a stroll along a fairly level path, with the extra advantage of being a very pretty walk around a large knoll covered in millions of glorious alpine flowers and offering magnificent views. Apart from the ubiquitous cows and calves, we even saw marmots running around on the hillside below us.

The three older children and their long-legged uncle took the high road over the top and met us halfway, then retraced their steps while we completed the circle below, arriving all together at our starting point. The views were breathtaking, and we could see the clouds rolling in, first big white billows then grey, getting darker and darker as we returned to the cable car for the descent, goodbye hugs and the trip home.

We were very blessed. It almost didn’t happen: the weather forecast had been bad, and we knew that a thunderstorm was due in the afternoon, but the weather clerk smiled on us and held the storm back till we had left. And it was a short storm, followed by a rainbow. All in all, just a perfect day. And we are all very, very happy and thankful.

Swissified At Last

For my Swissification Saga, read these posts:

Swissification
Swissification Strep Two
Swissification Step Three
Swissification: Suite but not quite Fin
A Milestone Birthday

Here they are, at last! My passport and ID card certifying that I really am a Swiss citizen. After waiting patiently for two years for the powers that be to approve my application for naturalisation, the actual production and delivery of these documents went very fast. A short session for the digital photo and fingerprinting last Friday, and the postman brought me the pass on Tuesday and the ID card on Wednesday! 

It’s a strange thing to be given a new nationality, almost like a re-birth. After being a foreigner here for almost fifty years, I now have to discover my inner Swiss identity. And as it all coincides with my 80th birthday, it’s also like being given a new lease of life! These documents expire when I’m 90 – shall I still be around then to renew them? Watch this space! As far as I am aware, there’s no special ceremony for the conferring of this honour, no official swearing of allegiance or vowing to defend the Heimat with my life, just a letter from the Cantonal Government reminding me of the importance of using my vote for the good of the country.

That doesn’t prevent me from celebrating privately, of course, and I have done so not only by enjoying a glass of a delicious Swiss wine from St Saphorin (I also have an unopened bottle of wine from my village, but am waiting for the right person to share that one with) but also by getting new curtains for my living room. 

This was a spur of the moment decision – my best friend asked me to pop into IKEA as I was passing, and buy her some drinking glasses. Of course, nobody can pop into IKEA and just buy drinking glasses. The managers have designed a diabolical parcours or labyrinth that ensures you simply cannot go straight to your target but have to wander around bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms being constantly waylaid and ambushed by objects you didn’t realise you actually needed but now find are essential and/or irresistible. 

I have curtains in my basement that fit my French windows, but I made them 30 years ago and although they are still in excellent condition and the colours/pattern not even outdated, I wanted something different. I had perfectly good plain white linen-effect curtains at the other window, which also came from IKEA about 15 years ago. Of course, that particular fabric is no longer available, but hey, look! A double pack for the price of one, with nice white herringbone weave. Go for it, girl, live dangerously and replace the lot! So I did. Eight new curtains. I hear the echo of my mother’s voice in my head: “That will see me out!” she used to say in her last decade or two whenever she bought anything new.

Result: I now have matching curtains at both windows, and am very pleased with the way they look. They were half a metre too long so I spent about half an hour pondering whether to puddle or break. Is puddling even still fashionable? I looked online, and apparently anything goes nowadays except swags and curtains at half-mast. I’ve always liked the puddled look, but know from experience that (a) puddled hems collect dust and (b) if they are going to be drawn they need constant re-arranging like bridal gowns in photographs. Break was really my only option, about a centimetre above the floor. This has left me with eight pieces of fabric hemmed on three sides, each measuring 145 x 65 cm … there must be something I can do with that!

Another little dilemma was that the relatively expensive hooks I had bought at IKEA didn’t fit the groove in my curtain railway. Luckily I still have the hooks from my previous drapes. On my first attempt at hanging them, the tops of the curtains drooped. What had I done wrong? I could have ordered some extremely expensive pleating hooks, but I was sure there must be a solution. Throughout my life, I must have dressed hundreds of windows, but it’s been a while and I had forgotten how to thread the hooks to make a pleat. Suddenly it all came back. I took them all down and inserted the hooks again. This time they behaved themselves. I wondered what else I might have forgotten, or if there’s any kind of new window treatment I could adopt so I googled “hanging curtains” and found a video entitled “How to train your curtains”. It seems other people have naughty disobedient curtains that have to be trained to hang in straight columns by being tied together for a fortnight or so. I remember German housewives pinning their net curtains into pleats back in the nineteen-sixties; do they still do that? Mine don’t need that punishment.

One thing I learnt at an early age from my mother is that hanging material tends to stretch lengthways and curtains will drop, so I always pin hems and leave them for a while before sewing them. In the past, I often forgot about them, and more than one visitor has enquired why my curtain hems were pinned and not sewn. One guest – an aunt who was a tailor’s wife – actually spent a few hours of her holiday with us hemming the curtains in our chalet! Bless her! My new curtain hems are pinned, and I trust that I’ll remember to sew them before they need washing. 

Finally, I am very relieved that in spite of climbing up and down on a stool at least four times per curtain (4×8 =32) I was able to keep my balance and not fall off. A good afternoon’s work!

Two More Poems by Jörg Zink – Translated

I, Moles

Every being on this Earth has their own world
and every one is sure that their world is the only one
that really exists.

I think to myself:
Underneath the fig tree, in the loose soil,
lives a family of moles.

I imagine asking Daddy mole,
“How big is the world?”
He’ll think about this for a while, then say:
“It’s very big. It’s made of soil
that reaches two mole-lengths down.
Then you hit rock. That’s where the world ends.
It reaches two mole-lengths up,
then comes Hell. That’s where the devils are
who want to kill us with their spades.
This is where the world is, here in our burrows, 
here where there’s food for the noblest of creatures,
for us moles.”

His wife and child, however, consider
Father to be a wise man.
They roll themselves up in their cosy, soft, warm fur
and are sure that they
are living in the hub of the world,
privileged above all other creatures.

II. Beetles

Let’s have a little more fun:
In the grass at the edge of the field
two ladybirds are strolling through the clover
content after a good meal
and philosophising about the limits of existence.

One of them, his brow furrowed in thought,
starts thinking aloud:
“Might there not be creatures in the world
that are utterly different from us? Bigger? Stronger?
Wise and powerful? Humans, maybe?
Or whatever you want to call them.”

The other beetle laughs so hard that the blade of grass quivers.
“Humans? Are you kidding?
Have you ever seen one?”
“No, never seen any,” admits the first, abashed.

And they conclude that there can’t be any humans
as there’s no proof of their existence.
“The truth is,” says the second insect, 
“that nothing exists unless you can see it
and hear it and count it and define it,
and above all else, eat it.”
And they turn their smug attention 
to their dessert.

Strange, how obediently we follow – Jörg Zink

Strange, how obediently we follow 
When we listen to our experts.
Day after day we let ourselves be persuaded
That our world goes no further
Than what can be reduced to figures,
theorems, proofs.
We let them tell us: a different world,
A spiritual one maybe, spiritual beings,
Even a God – that’s all wishful thinking.

We let them wall us in.
We say: no one is free.
We are all shaped by our genes.
Our job maps our path.
We are fixed, we say,
and freedom is a dream.

But maybe we could be freer than we think
If we opened our eyes –
Both in our heart and in our spirit –
Maybe we could cross all borders
Drifting with the white clouds 
Across the blue of an endless heaven.

(My translation)

Broad, blue to the horizon – Jörg Zink

Broad, blue to the horizon, lies the fjord
Hemmed in by distant mountains.
Stretching as far as the eye can see: water, rocks, sky,
Blurring in the mist of the distance.

But what for the outward eye stretches into infinity
also stretches into infinity in our own soul,
and our inner world
is even more infinite than the outer.

For where the inward things end
is where a new, boundless world begins.

An ancient legend tells of a river
that runs around the edge of the world, and it says:
Look beyond! There, too, is truth!

And I sense:
All the boundaries we see,
All the boundaries we bump into,
Can open up to us
And our freedom begins
Wherever we look beyond the bounds
.

This is my rendering of the first poem by Jörg Zink in his little book “Unter weitem Himmel”, a beautiful collection of poetry and photographs, with a positivity frequently absent in the literature of these present times.

It’s over five years since I exultantly bought this lovely book for just one cent (plus postage) – a tale I recounted here – and I really don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to putting these poems – which are really one long reflection – into English. His website, in German, can be found here: https://www.joerg-zink.de. He lived to be 93, and was a very prolific author so I’m sure I can’t be the first person to translate any of his works into English. However, Google is letting me down in this instance by only bringing up German results for me. Never mind: that means I can get on with putting these into English without having to compare myself with people far better than I am, which can be intimidating as well as challenging.

I have two other poems on this blog that are my translations of Zink’s originals, here and here. Both of these come from the same source, Unter weitem Himmel. I don’t want to infringe anyone’s copyright, so any images included are mine. We don’t have many fjords here in Switzerland, and I haven’t been to Norway, so at present I don’t have a suitable photo to accompany this poem. Perhaps my daughter can oblige, since she has been there?

Anyway, enjoy!

A Milestone Birthday

The pleasant events surrounding my entry into my ninth decade sweetened the bitter pill to a certain extent, and I am gradually getting used to that new number. On the day before my birthday I was able to join a group of old friends for a delicious barbecue in a beautiful garden, the first time we had been all together for well over a year, so that was a special treat.

My grandchildren, their spouses and children made the day itself memorable. It’s been quite a long time since everybody was together in person as opposed to some being present on a screen, and as the weather was bright and sunny, we were able to sit outside at the restaurant and enjoy our meal together, even though Covid restrictions meant we had to sit at two separate tables. 

Some of my birthday presents were unorthodox but fitting and very welcome. I was told that I hadn’t needed to drop any hints about the toboggan run as the granddaughters had already thought of that. I’m obviously more transparent than I realized! That will be forthcoming and is something to look forward to. I have invited my grandson-in-law and my eldest great-grandson to come along with me as my birthday present to them, so we’ll be a multi-generational party for that trip, and there may indeed be a zipwire ride later on, but in the Jura not in Wales.

And – bless them! – they are also going to come to my place and give my carpets a really good and much needed shampoo. That may sound strange, but it’s what I asked for. Something else that I asked for – and got – was a new toilet brush and bath mat, gifted with a grin by my best friend!

My middle granddaughter and her husband arrived with a big smile and emptied a bag of cheeses onto my dining table: “You’re 80, so you’re getting 80 different cheeses!” (Yes, my predilection for cheese is well attested and is clearly public knowledge.) The clever thing about this is that I’m getting them in instalments, so they will  always be fresh. This was the first batch: Appenzeller in three different guises (the standard version, Alpine cheese from the Schwägalp, and goat’s cheese), Cheddar, a pavé of soft cheese with truffles, Roquefort, Epoisses, local Thurgau and St Gallen cheeses, and a “Scharfer Max” which is new to me. All very delicious!

After the weekend, I spent ten days at the house of my best friend, and the lovely sunny weather continued. She had two other house guests – her teenage granddaughter from Paris plus boyfriend. This was a salutary reminder for both of us of many things we had forgotten about teenagers and their behaviour. I’ll just say that the kids could have been much, much worse – but it was a relief to drop them off at the station at the end of the week. It’s so much easier being a grandparent than a parent!

And now, returning home, I find a letter in the post informing me that AT LAST my application for Swiss nationality has been approved by the Canton of St Gallen, and I am now officially a Swiss citizen. I just need to make an appointment to order my passport and ID card, and my Swissification process will finally be complete. 

It has taken exactly two years since I handed in my application, and it is also just about six weeks short of forty-eight years since I arrived in this country. That is a very nice birthday present: Thank you, Confoederatio Helvetica! I shall be able to join in the celebrations on 1 August, Swiss national day, this year no longer as a foreigner but as a native.

Getting Used To A New Decade

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing, the mountains are magnificent in their summer glory, with the snow gleaming on their summits. I have everything to be thankful for in my life – but I am aware of a vague feeling of … what shall I call it? Disgruntlement? Wondering why? Well, in a couple of weeks it will be the summer solstice, and I have a birthday coming up. Usually up to now, my birthdays have been occasions for rejoicing and celebration. And this one should certainly be no exception – except that it’s a round one, and I have started resenting those numbers in front of the O. 

It took me a whole year to accept that I had turned seventy (this tells the tale) and my feelings this year are uncannily similar. I really don’t want a big celebration, just some nice little get-togethers with my nearest and dearest, and the opportunity to let them all know how much they mean to me. In this, at least, Covid-19 has been beneficial, as large gatherings are still not allowed so I don’t have to protest too much about not wanting a huge party. Three or four people at a time, spread over a couple of weeks or so – yes, that sounds fine. 

On three of my previous round birthdays, I was gifted wonderful hot-air balloon-rides. The one that had been scheduled for my eightieth came as a surprise for my 75th, so that’s not on the cards this year. I had been contemplating a ride on the longest zipwire in Europe, which is in North Wales, but again, Covid-19 has eliminated that option. Maybe when I’m 90?

What had been planned most recently was that I would join my daughter and son-in-law on their yacht in the Friesian Islands, but it’s become a bit complicated – Covid again – so that has been postponed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this little sailing trip might materialise after all in the autumn, and offer an opportunity to catch up with an old friend who lives in Amsterdam, but – well, I’m not holding my breath! Great if it happens. He’s coming 88 so I hope we both live long enough!

So why do I feel just a teensy bit disgruntled? I’m counting my blessings, which are actually too many to be enumerated individually here, and feeling very grateful. It’s just that every ten years, the hand of the clock moves that little bit further and I have to admit that time has flown far faster than I would ever have imagined. It definitely speeds up as we age, and the grim reaper appears to be getting too close for comfort. 

The solution is in my hands: I have to admit that I’m no longer, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or even 70 anymore and face up to the fact that the number eighty is made up of a fat lady and a ring.  What the ring symbolises is beyond me at the moment, but the fat lady looks at me every day in the mirror. She is a reality! I have to accept this number, and start acting my age.

Really, I know that this is a wonderful gift to me: to have lived so long, to enjoy so many privileges and such a comfortable life. Yes, I truly am very grateful, and I suppose I am in a way looking forward to the big day and will eventually come to accept that number. I hope the sun continues to shine on me as I enter the octogenarian decade! 

By the way, if anyone reading this is wondering how to console me for that 0 following the 8, there is a nice long toboggan ride on a mountainside not too far away from my home, and if I drop enough hints maybe someone will take me along on that so I can indulge my inner eight-year-old. Who knows?