Disaster – Or Golden Opportunity?

Our family home in England went back on the market at the end of September, after the prospective buyer withdrew her offer. I was disappointed, as she had seemed the perfect person for the place, but it wasn’t to be,/

Finally, just before Christmas, another turned up with an offer rather lower than we had hoped for, but – hey, beggars can’t be choosers, and the house wasn’t improving by standing empty through the bad weather. If you know the UK, you will know that for the two weeks around Christmas and New Year, life comes to a standstill. So I had to be patient until mid January, when I learned that my buyer’s mortgage application had been approved, and the solicitors contacted me for confirmation of this and that detail. The estate agent was very reassuring throughout February, and I had high hopes of completing the sale by Easter, when I shall be flying off to the sun again.

But March duly came in like a lion and the Beast from the East (as the weather-people nicknamed the violent freezing blasts from the Arctic) and storm Emma were out to wreak havoc. Temperatures overnight plunged to -8°C. Then came the thaw.

My neighbour phoned me on Sunday morning: “I’m afraid I have bad news …” My first thought was that someone had died. So it was almost a relief to hear him continue, “A water pipe has burst in the loft and there’s a waterfall cascading down the stairs.” Exactly the same had happened in his house, and another neighbour had also lost tiles from her roof and had snow inside her house. Does it help to know you are not alone in your trouble?

I had had the foresight to check with the neighbour only a few days before to make sure that the central heating was still on and the house was warm, but the loft was very well insulated, and the pipe in question, although it was lagged, was located above the insulation and therefore vulnerable in the icy air.

First aid came in the form of our trusty plumber-electrician, who ought by rights to be retiring but has more work than he can deal with. He turned off the water, electricity and gas to make the house safe but didn’t have time to stop and repair the pipe, as he had a list as long as his arm of further emergencies to attend to.

On the Monday morning I e-mailed the estate agent and a chartered surveyor friend who has helped me in the past with building maintenance work. Both of these sent building contractors to have a look, and assess the damage. The builders both said the same: the floor and wall coverings need to be removed so that the fabric of the house can dry out, and possibly the water has got into the electric circuit, but an electrician will need to look into that.

Good, I thought, things are moving. I had forgotten this was England. Things don’t move that fast if you aren’t there to wield a whip. It was ten days before a skip was hired and the sodden carpets taken up, and it will be about three weeks before the plumber gets around to repairing the pipe. Then an electrician can go in and see if the circuits are OK.

I was in Germany at the time, so I phoned the insurance company and explained the situation. There was a certain amount of confusion over the policy, which had originally been in my mother’s name and has only been in my name since last July. Apparently, that isn’t long enough for it to be retrieved easily in the computer. In the end, the woman on the phone found it in her system and confirmed that it was valid, and I should call again to make a claim when I was back home.

That delayed us another week, and no work can be done until the insurance company has sent someone to inspect and assess the damage and received quotes from the two building firms. Then, I gather, they will take over and arrange for whatever repairs are necessary. I hope I understood that correctly.

Meanwhile, the central heating is off and this weekend it’s snowing again.

It has now been two weeks since the leak was discovered. I have photos of how my poor house looked ten days ago, but I dread to think of how much worse it must be by now: sodden floorboards and walls, the woodwork swollen with water, and the front door has jammed.

Does the buyer know yet? The estate agent says he is waiting to be able to give him the good news, viz. that he will be spared the work and expense of removing old carpets and wall coverings, and the walls will be re-plastered and papered free of charge. He may even get new floors. Will it affect the sale, or delay completion? I’ll soon find out.

This weekend is the anniversary of my mother’s funeral. Although (as my daughter says) the soul had gone out of the place as soon as she was no longer living there, a year ago I was still so closely attached to her house that I couldn’t begin to think of handing it over to strangers. I was distressed when I saw the garden beginning to run wild in the summer, and it was a harrowing task to de-clutter and clear out the house last September.

However, as autumn and winter advanced, I began to look forward to closure and the idea of someone else bringing it back to life, with a young family making it their home. It will be liberating to hand it over to them. I like the idea of the timing, that they will become its new owners exactly 80 years after my father and mother (aged 24 and 21 respectively) moved in, in April 1938.  Springtime is surely the best time for new beginnings. I hope and pray that all goes smoothly now.



Vintage Friends

old freinds quote

Visiting old friends is like putting on a pair of comfy slippers and a dressing gown. I have just spent ten days with such an old pal, whom I don’t see or speak to often enough, but it’s one of those friendships where the connection is so deep and strong we can pick up the threads even after years of silence. We first met more than fifty years ago, both of us young English women exiled in provincial Germany, each with a little girl and, as we discovered, a great deal in common besides.

We have stood – metaphorically if not always literally – shoulder to shoulder through many ups and downs, good times and dreadful, and though we may have sometimes had different perspectives on things, we have never fallen out or spoken angrily to one another. We can take criticism and plain speaking from each other without offence, knowing that neither of us is being judgemental in such cases, but only wants the best for the other. We know each other’s shortcomings, but we are also aware of our strengths. For this friendship, I am eternally grateful.

This time it was my turn to offer my shoulder to cry on, and lend a willing ear for confidences she could share with no one else. I hope I gave good counsel, but my chief contribution was simply being there. We also revisited old haunts, many of which have altered out of all recognition, mostly for the better but sometimes not, and cheered ourselves up immensely by finding genuine bargains in the sales.

These buildings summarise some of the changes that have taken place between 1968 and 2018:

Being in the place where I lived so many years ago, and which I hadn’t visited for a decade, my path also inevitably crossed that of other friends, family and former acquaintances. The cruel passage of time had made most of us unrecognisable to one another, but after the initial blank stare, the familiar features of the younger face began to impose themselves and we usually caught up on the intervening half century in a matter of minutes: the girls I knew in the first flush of love, engaged and then married, now widows and grandmothers; the dashing young footballer, his infectious smile still intact, but now wearing six thousand euros’ worth of technology in his ears; the slim, energetic young tennis player now a roly-poly diabetic walking with a stick. But all of them cheerful and apparently glad to be alive still, all with their stories to tell if they can only find an audience.

It’s a truism to say that you can never go back. You may be able to open a window onto the past, but it remains a window to look through, not a door you can pass through. An old friend can look at the same view with you, and maybe notice things you have missed. That’s the joy of finding a person to reminisce with over shared memories that bore the socks off the grandchildren.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, disaster was striking. But that’s another post.

Of Beanies, Cowls and Blankets

Time for an update on my crochet, as my hook has been pretty busy over the last few months. Beanies were on my brain, and I had plenty of lovely colours from the rainbow box my granddaughter sent me. What better then, than to supply her little girls with hats? They already have enough, of course, but I happened to come across a pattern for a unicorn beanie, and as Carnival was approaching and little girls all seem to be into unicorns, that’s what they got. One each, a little horn for the baby and a large one for her big sister.


IMG_2052No, they didn’t actually go to Carnival as unicorns – Wonder Woman was more appropriate!



One very pretty variegated skein of brown, beige and orange shades seemed exactly right for a cowl for my friend K, and she would have been very pleased with it, except that she says she can’t wear wool next to her skin, and politely gave it back to me.







And a burnt orange skein was also just long enough to make a cowl for another friend –  if she also informs me that she doesn’t like wool next to her skin, I think I shall have to open an Etsy shop! My button jar turned out five buttons in exactly the same shade, so this one is a slightly different finish to the brown one.

This friend is also getting a tea-cosy. She likes pansies, so I had fun using up scraps to make different coloured flowers to decorate this. I have a feeling this may also be politely refused, but I hope not. Being English, she’s a tea drinker – but does she use a teapot or make the tea straight in the cup?  I’ll soon find out!











My current more ambitious project, for which I forked out money for the wool myself, is a granny square blanket for my bed. It’s called a Kaleidoscope blanket, and gives the illusion of being several squares superimposed on one another.

I’m calling it a Penelope blanket – you may recall that in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ wife Penelope spent her days weaving a tapestry which she undid at night. Mine has been undone countless times because it refused to lie flat. It would have been fine as a hammock, but that wasn’t my intention.

Eventually, I discovered a YouTube tutorial which explained what I was doing wrong, so I took it back to square one (literally!) and this time it’s behaving itself. The only snag now is that I seem to be running out of wool, so this project may turn out to be more expensive than intended.




I still have plenty of odd skeins in my rainbow box, so there may be more beanies, cowls and even amigurumi on the way.


Old Age

Old age pounces
Out of the blue
Like a cat
A panther
Waiting in ambush
As you plod on your absent-minded way
From decade to decade
Unaware of the sudden predator
That downs you
With the swipe of a vicious paw
Full of claws.

IF –
If you had only

But no,
Too late…

Once in a Blue Moon …


… comes the privilege of witnessing, live, two men of genius performing at the same event. Two days on, I’m still glowing from the reflected glory and deep inner joy, all enhanced by the memorable timing of this experience on the eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

What event am I mooning about? I have already mentioned my old friend Norman Perryman in two previous blogposts (here and here – please read them again, and have a look at his websites). Naturally I’ve seen some of his impressive static paintings, and videos of his kinetic art, but this was my very first opportunity to see his unique genius in action, live, right before my eyes.

When he told me that he was coming to perform with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra on the evening of 30 January, of course I knew I had to go to the concert. So near, yet so far: Zurich is only an hour and a half away by train, so I’ve always considered it easily accessible. However, as I get older and feel more vulnerable, I have become ever more reluctant to take the train late in the evening because there are “some weird folk” abroad at that time, hanging around stations as well as on the train. There is probably little risk, I know, but I feel that my fear is palpable and that, like animals, these people can sense fear and are attracted by it. So call me cowardy-custard, but I prefer not to take the train after 9 pm if I can avoid it.

My Darling Daughter came to my rescue once again. She lives close enough to Zurich that the train journey is not so fraught, and anyway she looks after me so well, I don’t have to worry about anything. Plus, she offered me a bed for two nights. She was so keen to go, she actually bought the tickets, so another treat for me. In fact, I don’t think I would have found the concert venue on my own, though once you know its location it’s actually very easy, practically next door to the railway station.

The programme was an interesting and lively mix: Stravinsky’s “Basel” concerto for strings in D with Norman’s kinetic watercolours, followed by Mozart’s piano concerto no 21 (with the famous Elvira Madigan Andante 2nd movement) featuring the extraordinary Radu Lupu, and culminating in a rollicking rendering of Beethoven’s second symphony.

Stravinsky, I freely admit, is not among my favourite composers although in the past I have enjoyed watching ballets to his music. It is, I’ve always felt, more a vehicle to move to than music to listen to, and have disparagingly referred to the opening movement of this concerto as “Music for grasshoppers”. It had struck me as suitable for the soundtrack of some film noir, but with Norman’s synaesthesia supplying the colours and the paintbrush providing the choreography, I suddenly found this work palatable. Kinetic art is the perfect partner for this piece. To my surprise, it touched feelings and emotions in me that were buried very deep, arousing a sense of a profound connection to universal truths and meanings that flashed in and out too swiftly for me to catch them. Almost cathartic. Certainly beautiful.

We had seats in the middle of the front row so that we would get a good view of the screen where the art is projected. This also gave us a new perspective on the Steinway during the piano concerto, a true worm’s eye view of the mirrored inside lid. It didn’t matter. I’m one of those people who close their eyes while listening to classical music, preferring not to see the writhing and grimacing of many gifted musicians as they perform. All I could see of the soloist Radu Lupu, once he had sat down, was his left foot barely pressing the pedal. But my daughter, who was slightly better placed in the aisle seat, was struck by his stolid impassivity as he played, in such contrast to the delicacy of his touch and the power of his performance. No writhing or grimacing here. Yes, unmistakably a genius, able to coalesce with the music and the instrument, proving how much greater is the whole than the parts. Mozart must have been very pleased by this interpretation.

Then, after the interval, the Chamber Orchestra came into its own with an exuberant rendering of Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 that must also have had the composer wanting to jump up from his grave and join in. This, surely, is how it is meant to be performed, the conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste truly channelling the composer, and the musicians wallowing in the stirring spirit of the piece. Hard to imagine that Beethoven was anything but happy when he wrote this symphony, but in fact its composition coincided with his despair when he realised he was now permanently deaf.

This performance was joyful, jolly, jubilant. I couldn’t see the conductor’s face, but the musicians were all beaming and exhilarated, as was the audience. “Beethoven rocks!” laughed my daughter, as we watched the Leader of the orchestra rolling around on his seat, feet in the air much of the time as he put lots of gusto and brio into his bowing and his Stradivarius responded full-heartedly. The cellist was also sawing away so energetically that the strings of his bow were visibly disintegrating and by the end of the last movement there was a pile of fluff all round the feet of his chair. It was a rousing end to the programme.

How its first audiences must have been blown away by this fresh, exciting music that came with the new eighteenth century; no wonder the ladies were fainting and swooning, their corsets tight beneath their Empire dresses!

Happily, we were also able to catch Norman on the way out, and have him to ourselves for a few minutes before he had to go and mingle with the throng sipping their champagne in the foyer. We saw no point in lingering longer, so instead of champagne we went home for a cup of tea, and to tell my Dear Son-in-Law what a delight he had missed.

This will never be repeated and I may never see either of these geniuses again. Radu Lupu is more or less a recluse and his public performances are now extremely rare. Norman is due to perform at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham in the autumn, but it’s unlikely that I can make it there since I no longer have a permanent base in England. So I bask gratefully in the beautiful memory of an exceptional event on the blessed eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.


Domestic Dragon

The dragon beneath the carpet
Beneath the floorboards
Beneath the foundations
Of the house
Was tamed into submission

Docile as a dormouse
By a new name
Harnessed to our service

The Romans called him
We say
Geothermal power
And his cubs
Have become
Underfloor heating.

But the dragon
Is still a dragon
Below the basement
In the unplumbed
Bowels of the

Do not believe your dragon
Is house-trained
Until you’ve been
Inside his den.

Panties and Passports

One of the disadvantages of getting fat is that after a while, knicker elastic becomes so fatigued it no longer springs back when stretched. Since the top of my briefs circumscribes the widest part of my girth, I failed to notice this lack of resilience until I was more than halfway to the shops, at which point I suddenly felt a movement around my buttocks and realised that my knickers were descending. Fortunately, I was wearing trousers which stopped the free fall of said underwear and saved me from public humiliation.

The sensation resembled having a rope tied in a figure eight around the top of my thighs, but as my trousers weren’t fashionably skin-tight there was no VPL to betray my traitorous lingerie to prying eyes or anyone who may have been wondering about my funny walk. I did my shopping and returned home awkwardly but with modesty preserved.

This was not a disaster per se, but it followed a frustrating morning, and led me to check that it wasn’t actually Friday the thirteenth. Let me tell you about it.

The day started off normally. I have booked a trip to the USA in April and May, and have been reliably informed that visitors travelling to the United States are required to be in possession of passports that are valid for six months beyond the period of their intended stay in the United States. Now, although I have lived in Switzerland for over forty years, I don’t have Swiss citizenship and usually travel on my British passport, which is valid until October, as is the ESTA (travel authorization) based on it. That’s OK for entry but leaves me only four months from the date of my return until the expiration of my passport. I needed to find out if this was a problem.

After breakfast I looked online, but finding no information relevant to this situation, I decided to phone the American Embassy and find out if this meant I need to renew my passport now.  I was welcomed by a recording which told me to go online and listed many FAQ’s that were answered there. The voice then continued with a catalogue of issues for which I should press 1, 2, 3 etc. None of them really sounded appropriate, so I pressed 2 and was given another menu. I pressed what seemed the most sensible, was referred back to the website and – “Goodbye.” The line went dead.

I rang again, and pressed a different series of numbers, until eventually I was greeted by a live voice. A polite, friendly young woman informed me that as this was the American Embassy in Switzerland, she could only deal with questions concerning Swiss passports so she gave me another number to try.

I poured myself another cup of coffee and went off on another merry-go-round, connecting after about twenty minutes with a man with a strong French accent. I speak fluent French so I told him in French that I was a British passport holder and had a query about the six-month validity rule. He insisted on speaking English and refused to speak French, which would have been much easier since I had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said, and he was misunderstanding me much of the time.

After taking my name, date of birth and number of my passport, he told me to hold the line while he passed on my query. Quite pleasant music, and only a few minutes of it. Then he returned and told me I should look on the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I did, and finally noticed a link to a “Six-month Club Update” tucked away unobtrusively. Who’d have guessed! Certain countries are exempt from the six-month rule and visitors need only have a passport valid for the length of their stay. This list includes the UK. Hallelujah! BUT why on earth couldn’t the first person I spoke to tell me that? And why wasn’t the six-month club displayed more prominently on the website? Surely mine must be a FAQ? By now it was lunchtime.

It may seem a simple matter to renew a passport, and I thought I had started to think about the procedure in good time. It used to be very straightforward for British people resident in Switzerland: the British Embassy and consulates here issued my last few passports within just a couple of weeks of receiving my application. However, they tell me they no longer do this job and I have to apply by post to the Passport Office in the UK. The procedure can take a few months. I don’t want to risk not having a valid passport for my spring trip, or not being able to get a new ESTA before I’m due to depart, so I decided to wait till I get back and apply in June, hoping that all will go smoothly and I won’t be left without a valid travel document.

Among all this fuss and bother, I remembered that I actually have dual nationality and am also entitled to a German passport. I know that the German Embassy issued my last German passport which expired a few years ago, so I e-mailed them to find out if I could get a new German passport more quickly. It will be useful to have this, especially in view of Brexit: I would like to remain a citizen of the EU.

Teutonic precision meant an instant reply. Yes, no problem. In theory. In practice, I have to go in person to the Embassy in Bern, so should arrange an appointment with them and bring all the necessary documentation, originals and photocopies, photos etc. Go to the website to arrange a date and time.

I should have guessed it wouldn’t be so easy: the earliest date available is the end of May or beginning of June. Well, well! Looks like I’ll be having a day trip to our Swiss capital when I come back from America, which is a pretty prospect, especially if the sun is shining that day. And then it will be a race to see which new passport arrives first. I notice that the charge for both of them is substantially higher  for a person resident abroad than those living in their own country. Can I afford two new passports?

Of course, I ought to have taken Swiss nationality long ago. It will be forty-four years in August since I landed here, and I have every intention of staying. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are all Swiss, as are many of my friends. Becoming a Swiss citizen isn’t so simple, though. There are quite a few hoops to jump through, and hurdles to overcome. And I’m not sure the Swiss will want a woman with unpredictable lingerie.

I think I’ll wait till I have my first two nationalities sorted out before I embark on acquiring a third!