Where did January go?

I’ll start with an apology for my absence from this blog during January. Life has just been happening a little too quickly for me to sit down and update you, or share my labyrinthine mental meanderings.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve dared to join in social activities involving large numbers of people, but – fingers crossed! – life might gradually be returning to some kind of post-Covid normality. 

Did the fact that I actually tested positive in December affect my attitude so that I am less wary of catching Corona now, and less risk-averse? Maybe. I attended a very happy birthday party this weekend and also went to my usual church, where they haven’t seen my face for some time, so there was a lot of meeting, greeting and hugging going on. So far, so good! An interesting aspect – for me, at least – was that so many of those who hadn’t seen me lately commented on how trim and (almost) slim I am looking. 

Well, thank you, Noom! I was 10 kg down around the middle of December, but then hit a plateau where the scale has just been yo-yoing between 10 and 11 kg less than my starting weight. However, although I may have sinned a little foodwise, I have been walking and swimming regularly and my tape-measure shows a reduction of several centimetres. So maybe my fat is turning into muscle, which weighs heavier? Maybe! Maybe not! I’m not slacking, and am feeling way more energetic than I did only a couple of months ago, for which I am very grateful. One thing leads to another, and perhaps in a month or two I’ll be hopping and skipping around with the spring lambs! There’s also the comforting thought that I can wear my old “best” clothes again – and can find things in shops that look attractive and actually fit ! Another incentive to look for occasions and opportunities to go out and wear them.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions any more, as I know I can never keep them, but as I am well on the way to my target weight, I’m quite confident in saying that this year I’ll reach it. Also, I have noticed that in addition to the blogs I follow I’m also watching / listening to a number of podcasts every day, and possibly becoming addicted, so have decided to ration my screen time. Not easy, when some of the podcasts are over an hour long and on fascinating topics, and I suppose in the past I would have read books or magazine articles on these subjects. It never crossed my mind in pre-podcast days that I might be addicted to reading, though. 

Is this a valid comparison? I don’t have a TV or radio, so glean my information on what’s going on in the world from Internet news sites rather than newspapers. It seems my laptop and phone are replacing TV and radio as well as books but is this necessarily a bad thing? How life has changed in the last 20 or so years! 

Finally, since I’m apparently telling you about the positive things going on over here, I also have another piece of good news, which is that the book written by my Rwandan friend Apolline (already in its second edition in French) has at last found a publisher for the English edition and looks likely to come out within the next few months. That is very encouraging, and I’ll keep you informed. I wrote about this three years ago already in January 2020 at https://catterel.wordpress.com/2020/01/12/the-need-to-forgive/ and we have been trying to get the English version published for the last two and a half years. A reminder not to give up in spite of rejections and discouragement! I’ll let you know when it’s available for purchase. The English title is “As We Forgive Them”. Watch this space!

Goodbye 2022

Let’s end the year on a cheerful note: despite testing positive for Covid, I can’t say it felt any worse than a very bad cold or seasonal flu, and indeed had it not been for the fact that I’d been planning to let the new year in with my best friend, and didn’t want to risk infecting her, I probably wouldn’t even have done a test. 

Christmas itself was, once a again, a lovely, happy, relaxing family occasion with excellent food and drink. All seemed, as the carol says, calm and bright.

The coughs and sneezes began a day or two later, intensified, peaked and by today – following a lavish brunch – were no hindrance to our enjoyment of a walk around and through the woods with panoramic views of the Alps stretching from the German Allgäu (Bavaria) by way of Vorarlberg (Austria), Grisons, Glarus, and various other Swiss cantons all the way to the Bernese Oberland – a distance of over 300 km. And the weather was kind to us, allowing us to revel in the whole of that vista in bright, clear sunshine with not the slightest hint of a cold breeze to spoil the experience in any way. 

The canton of Thurgau is an insider tip for nature lovers. It has gently rolling hills with orchards, patches of woodland, streams and small rivers, and quaint half-timbered houses and farms. In the distance you see the mountains, but they don’t encroach on the local scenery, and it’s bordered on its northern edge by beautiful Lake Constance (Bodensee in German).  

Maybe I shouldn’t sing its praises too loudly, as it’s one area of Switzerland that isn’t overrun by tourists, and it would be good to keep it that way.

Anyway, we walked about five kilometres breathing in clean, fresh woodland air that must have done our lungs good because we are no longer coughing as we were yesterday. We met very few people but some interesting animals: a family of pigs with thick, coarse curly hair that skipped and danced around their long-suffering mother, and a couple of beautiful white draft horses. 

Pigs are a symbol of good luck in German, so hopefully these are a portent for the new year.

Home for tea and coffee with a slice of rich fruit cake – made to my mother’s traditional recipe – and finally were gifted a magnificent sunset to end the year in style.

2022 has been a strange year, leaving us with very mixed feelings as we think over the many events that have impacted our lives during the past 12 months. But this last day has been beautiful, and I for one am very grateful for such a lovely peaceful ending to it. 

I wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed 2023-

Alone at Christmas?

Let others hurry, scurry, worry, 

Rushing, pushing, in a flurry,

Christmas is a panic season

When normal folk lose all their reason.

When everyone is all stressed out,

Totally zonked from dashing about

Choosing presents and wrapping yards

Of paper and ribbon, and writing cards,

Making puddings, pies and cakes,

Decking with holly, till everything aches

From putting up baubles on Christmas trees

And crawling about on hands and knees

To find the one that dropped back there 

And rolled behind the big armchair – 

Cooking turkeys with all the trimmings

Eating food that’s far from slimming,

Then getting gifts they really hate

And feeling sick ‘cause they over-ate 

And drank too much, while the kids go wild

With toys unsuitable for a child –

THINK:

YOU can curl up in your comfy bed

And pull the duvet over your head,

Do whatever you want to do –

Enjoy the peace, and don’t feel blue:

Because we’ll all be envying YOU.

Saint Nicholas is coming to town.

Reblogged from Sundry Times Too

Hobby-horse warning: I find it irritating that people confuse Saint Nicholas with Father Christmas. The first one, aka Santa Claus, was a bishop who lived in the 4th century AD. The other one is a descendent of the “Green Man” and Sir Christèmas with more in common with Discworld’s “Hogfather” than with Saint Nick. Put […]

SAINT NICHOLAS IS COMING TO TOWN. — SUNDRY TIMES TOO

November, November

“I’m busy doing nothing, 
working the whole day through, 
trying to find lots of things not to do …” 
(Song from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1949 film with Bing Crosby, William Bendix and Cedric Hardwicke, which is a weird combo in any film!)

Seems like my theme song just lately – where have the last few weeks gone? Vanished with the autumn leaves! Is it because the days are so much shorter now, that they seem to fly by so fast? 

There have been a number of not-so-good things happening to people around me, but I don’t want to dwell on the negative here. Let me see what – if anything – I have accomplished in this almost finished month of November. 

First of all, I am pleased to report that I have stuck with my Noom programme and am seeing results: I’m back to where I was pre-Covid. Nine and a half kilos (20 lb) gone – at least, that was the score last Saturday morning but then I went to a Thanksgiving Dinner in the evening so am ignoring the numbers that popped up on my scale the next day. It was brought home to me exactly how much of a load that is when I carried two bags of groceries home and realised that they weighed 9 kg. No wonder I’m feeling more energetic! Because yes, I really am walking much more and enjoying it. I am very blessed to live in a beautiful place and it makes little difference whether the weather is fine or dull, there’s always a nice walk somewhere. Thanks are due to my daughter in this respect, as she encouraged me to walk with her and her dog when I was staying at her house, and got me going!

I also spent a week with an old friend I hadn’t seen for four years, who lives in the wooded hills of the Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany) – another great opportunity for some picturesque hikes, with wonderful autumn colours. And lots of catching up, of course, until our jaws were too tired to wag any more.

What else have I to show for my busyness? The booty from my shopping in Germany, where the euro is now worth less than the Swiss franc and prices are lower anyway. Encouraged by the fact that I have dropped two dress sizes, and hence have a wider range of garments to choose from, I managed to fill my suitcase to bursting with a new basic wardrobe. 

On my return home, I moved some pieces of furniture around, which also meant that all the corners got cleaned out, much to the disgust of the resident spiders. And potted some winter plants in a window box that I can admire through my French windows, watching the birds coming to my feeders at the same time. Up to now, they haven’t paid my offerings much attention and can obviously still find plenty to eat in the fields and hedges. I heard – and then saw – the woodpecker drilling into my neighbour’s pear tree yesterday, and a robin dropped onto my patio just for a quick reconnoitre, but otherwise the feathered folk are busy elsewhere.

On one of my walks in the woodland park down the lane, I foraged a bag full of fir and pine cones and a few sprays of fir from a felled tree to make an Advent decoration. As it all dries out rapidly in my centrally heated apartment, the fir needles are falling fast so I’ll soon have to replace them, probably with yew from the tree in our garden, which doesn’t lose its needles so quickly. My crochet hook has also been whipping in and out very diligently, making inroads into a few large balls of wool my daughter gave me and so far producing a waistcoat and a few squares of Celtic knots that will turn into something– maybe a throw, maybe a cushion, we’ll see.  

Finally, I also baked a rich fruitcake for Christmas – my contribution to our family English Christmas dinner. This is now tucked up in its tin in the pantry and will be fed regularly with cognac to ensure that it doesn’t get too dry. Fingers crossed!

So on the whole, I haven’t been exactly idle: I also did some housework and a few translations in my spare time …

Transient Beauty

“If you have nothing to say, don’t speak.” 

Actually, I’ve had plenty to say but nothing of any value or interest to my blog readers, hence my relatively long silence over the past few weeks.  A bright spot this month – typifying golden October – is a tree that I have been observing throughout the summer and autumn. It’s a kaki or persimmon tree growing in my friend’s garden, its dense foliage providing welcome shade on the hottest days of summer and now, as the leaves turn and the fruit ripens, glowing like a beacon in the autumn sun. 

This variety bears a fruit – actually a large berry – that has to be completely ripe and squishy to be enjoyed. You can’t eat it like an apple or cut it into neat wedges. As it ripens, it bursts slightly and develops black areas around the edges that have to be cut off. The outer skin is tough and needs to be removed, so it’s quite a messy job involving plenty of finger-licking but the resulting pulpy flesh tastes delicious. 

We took some of the kakis before they were ripe and placed them on the windowsill in the sunshine – appropriately for Hallowe’en, as they bear a strong resemblance to miniature pumpkins.

And as I swept up the fallen leaves, I rescued a few that struck me as particularly colourful just for the sake of a photo. So let me share my pleasure in this lovely tree with you.

Also a treat for the blackbirds. A wonderful example of the exuberant abundance of nature. I’m reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem “Pied beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
       With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

September Song – More Like A Lament

So much has been happening lately. The month of September was intense: at each momentous event I thought I should write about how deeply it struck me and then something else happened. So my reflections on the death of our beloved Queen and the accession of Charles III, the ruthless and pointless narcissism of Putin as he drives his hapless conscripts to wreak havoc in Ukraine, and now the devastation caused by hurricane Ian, particularly where it made landfall on the beautiful island of Sanibel which I know so well – all were overtaken by the subsequent events before I could even start to sort my emotions into words. Other people have expressed similar sentiments to mine, so I’ll spare you.

Behind my house – mountains and mist and blue sky

Here at home in Eastern Switzerland the weather seems to be attuned to all this. Autumn has most definitely arrived with pouring rain and a noticeable drop in temperatures, the mountain peaks are white with snow, the forests on the lower slopes are changing colour, and I have reluctantly taken in the cushions from my garden furniture as I acknowledge that from now on I’ll have to eat my lunch inside and not on my patio.

Breakfast on 1 September

Can we expect a golden October? Fingers crossed!

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Retaining the rhyme, here’s Noom: and I’m pleased to report that I have lost five and a half kilos (about 12 lb) since mid-July. Not a spectacular loss, but a loss nevertheless, roughly equivalent to a pound per week, but it will still be a while before it’s noticeable to others. Counting my steps (with an app on my phone) means I’m moving more and that gives me more energy – enough to have given my apartment a thorough clean and shifted some of my furniture around so that I have a slightly different perspective as I sit on my sofa. I think my clothes fit better and that gives me more self-confidence. Can I touch my toes again? Almost! 

I’m not sponsored by Noom, so this is a genuine recommendation for the programme which I find just as effective as Weight Watchers or Slimming World without having to attend regular meetings. Instead, there are daily “lessons” that upload themselves onto my phone – informative, instructive, amusing and encouraging. The app also logs my steps and analyses my food intake, making it easy to keep track and balance out the odd splurge on chocolate, desserts or cheese, and tells me how many calories I’ve burned when I exercise.

Before the almost incessant rain started, I was honoured by daily visits from a sweet little feline who decided to annex my apartment for the afternoon. She made her first appearance here at the end of February when she was still a kitten, and made sporadic forays into our garden during the spring, but from July onwards she ventured through the French windows and into my apartment, which apparently received her seal of approval. Once or twice I heard some brief caterwauling from a neighbour’s garden and presume that she had trespassed onto Queen Ayesha’s territory (Ayesha’s coat has now grown back even more luxuriantly than before, I’m pleased to say).

Mimi baby

I privately nicknamed my little tricolour friend “la Coquette” as that sums up her behaviour: if she were human, she’d be a dainty soubrette or a Gigi as incarnated in the famous film of the fifties. Once I’d determined which of the neighbouring houses she belonged to, I discovered she was called Mimi, which suits her down to the ground.

“This is MY bed!”

She always announced her arrival with a series of mews, winding herself around my feet, then after receiving the requisite amount of stroking and fuss, she’d settle herself comfortably for a long nap. I haven’t seen her lately, so I assume she doesn’t like getting her feet wet. 

J’y suis, j’y reste.

Mimi is one of the prettiest little cats I know, with very bright contrasting colours. Tortoiseshell cat in the UK, calico cat in the US – I have often wondered why “calico”, as this is a rough, unbleached fabric and I can see no resemblance whatsoever to Mimi’s gorgeous silky coat. Perhaps one of my readers across the pond can enlighten me?

First Love

It was the end of the 1950’s. I was seventeen, in the Upper Sixth of the Grammar School. A gangly, spotty lad, and something of a lone wolf. Not much use on the football field and even less on the cricket pitch. Books were my escape, birdwatching my hobby.

Ours was a mixed school, but I was invisible to the girls and so I decided to let them be invisible to me. There were occasional exchanges of course, but on the whole nobody would have noticed if I hadn’t been there. Sometimes, that came in useful and I’d skip a particularly boring class so I could hide in the library, which was quiet and peaceful and I could lose myself in other worlds.

It was on such a day, when I was trying to think of something sagacious to write in my essay, that I became aware of a girl sitting a few feet away from me, at the next table. A sudden shaft of sunlight shone right onto her, a spotlight that lit up her head, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a shiver ran down my spine, and my whole body was covered in goose bumps. Her hair looked aflame, and her face aglow. The rest of the room faded away in a mist and I could only stare at the vision before me. Did my jaw drop? Did I gasp? Did I whoop for joy? I don’t know. All I knew was, I was in love.

Did she feel me looking at her? Perhaps, because she raised her eyes from her book and looked straight into mine. She smiled, and the smile wasn’t just on her lips but also in her eyes. Then she went back to her reading. I floated back to the present, and dropped my eyes in embarrassment. Until the bell went for break, I didn’t dare look up again. When I did, she had gone.

It was a week before I saw that wonderful halo of golden hair again, and this time, to my surprise and pleasure, I realized that she took the same bus home as I did. My fevered brain invented excuses to speak to her, scripted long, involved conversations, devised exciting scenarios for interaction. Eventually, it was she who spoke to me, on the crowded bus: “Mind if I sit here?” All my clever responses dried up in my parched mouth and I could only nod and mumble an indistinct, “Sure.” She was sitting beside me! Her sleeve was actually touching mine! And then she turned those eyes like headlights on me, smiled that wonderful smile, and asked, “Are you any good at Latin?”

My opportunity, and I seized it with both hands. “Carpe diem!” I replied and she looked blank. So I cleared my throat and told her I was doing A-Level Latin and wasn’t too bad at it.

“Could you help me?” she asked. “I don’t understand the gerund.”

She was in the Lower Sixth, so fortunately for me that meant I was a year ahead of her and yes, I was able to explain both the gerund and the gerundive, topics which had not figured in any of my imaginary conversations, but in fact led to a perfectly normal, almost relaxed chat. Next time we were on the same bus, she made a beeline for me and sat down with a Cheshire cat grin on her face. 

“Thank you for helping me,” she said. “I got full marks for my Latin homework, and did OK in the test, too.”

I would have been chagrined had she not received full marks, but didn’t say so. Instead, I smiled back at her and noticed a dimple in the corner of her mouth that came and went as she spoke. All my prepared smart comments vanished from my mind. How was I going to impress her?   

“Any time,” I shrugged, “just ask, and … well, er, just ask.”

In the following weeks, I occasionally saw her around school, in a corridor or at the other end of the hall, once or twice in the library, but never had any chance to speak to her there. However, she made a habit of sitting next to me on the bus once a week, and for the fifteen minute bus ride, I coached her in Latin.

One day, after thanking me yet again for helping her improve her grades, she invited me to tea. I was over the moon! Sunday afternoon, high tea at 5 pm, at her home. Her mother greeted me kindly, her father looked at me as if inspecting an unidentified object left on the doorstep, and her little brother just stared at me with an inscrutable expression that made me feel very uncomfortable.

At about a quarter to six, her father looked at his watch and said, “Well, if you’re going to Evensong, you’d better be on your way.”

Evensong? I wasn’t a churchgoer, and in fact prided myself on my agnosticism. We certainly hadn’t discussed any plans other than having tea. I looked at my gorgeous angel, and she beamed her disarming smile. 

“Come on, then,” she urged me, “don’t want to be late.”

And thus I found myself walking beside her up to the lychgate of the parish church. Was I ready for conversion? Would I find my salvation here? Was I destined … ?

But a couple of yards short of the lychgate she stopped and turned to me.

“Thank you for coming with me. I hope you enjoyed your tea. I know you don’t attend church, so you can go now. Bye!”

And before I could say a word, she had flown those few yards and vanished through the gate. I stood stock still for a long moment in disbelief. Then my paralysis melted and I followed her tracks. I looked through the lychgate, and what I saw broke my heart. 

On the church steps, about to pass through the main door, was the girl I had been dreaming about for weeks, clinging to the arm of a young man wearing a ‘varsity scarf. As I watched, she put her face up to his and he kissed her on the lips. She gave him her most beautiful smile, and he hugged her. Then, holding hands, they went into the church.

*****

Through the years life has been pretty good to me, though there have been some rough passages as well as smooth sailing. I met and fell in love successively with a range of young women, married one of them, and then, realizing our error, we divorced. I had settled into my bachelor retirement and hoped for a few years of quiet pleasure pursuing my genuine interests rather than those that brought in an income, when a chance phone call turned my world completely upside down.

An old friend of my youth whose path had continued to cross mine at intermittent intervals rang to tell me he had run into an old schoolfriend whilst visiting family who still lived in our old home town. 

“And guess what, he lives next door to somebody who used to know you!”

“Who might that be?”

Of course, you have guessed the name he then spoke, a name that I had locked away in a never-to-be-opened compartment of my heart, and had never dared to mention in over 60 years. 

“Oh.”  That was all I could say. “Oh, really?” 

“She remembers you very well … hold on, I have her e-mail address here … “

Instantly I was seventeen again, suffering the agony of having my heart broken for the first time.

I wrote down the e-mail address but it took me a week to pluck up the courage to re-open a wound I had thought long scarred over. She replied the next day, suggesting a video call. I hesitated. I could see what Time had done to me – but could I stand the shock of seeing what the decades had done to her? Well, I decided, confront your demons: maybe this is the way to heal that pain that I have been repressing all these years. I made the call. 

The face that appeared on my screen stopped my heart. Those eyes, that smile, just as bright and warm as I remembered them – no, even brighter and warmer, with a glow that only maturity can give. The golden hair was now silver, but all I saw was the sixteen-year-old whose radiance had enthralled me sixty years before. I was in love again.

What did we say to one another? Strangely, I don’t recall any of that first conversation. But there were many more, and although we were now in different parts of the country we talked and shared our experiences as if we were in the same room and had never been apart. She was widowed, with grown-up, middle-aged children living far away. I was alone, childless, a retired teacher of Classics, still birdwatching, reading and playing chess on my computer. In our regular video chats we created our own world of comfort and common interests, shared and discussed all kinds of topics, and found that even where our views diverged, we could differ without arguing.

Finally, after about a year of video chats, we decided to arrange a meeting. I would travel to her place, and we would see whether we were as compatible in the flesh as we were on the screen. Did we have a future together? I was feverish with excitement, planning my long weekend, envisaging scenarios, packing and unpacking then packing again, until finally it was the day of departure. 

I was on the doorstep of my house, about to turn the key in the lock, when my phone rang. 

A voice I didn’t recognise spoke, asking if I was Mr D. I affirmed that I was indeed he, assuming this was yet another nuisance cold call, but then the speaker identified himself and my blood ran cold.

“I’m really sorry to have to break the news to you like this, but I need to tell you that my mother had a stroke and died this morning. She had written your name and phone number on her calendar for today, so I thought …”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he had to say. I stood there for a long, long moment with the phone in one hand and my suitcase in the other, as my mind replayed a scene from long ago. 

A golden-haired girl walking away from me, hand-in-hand with a young man wearing a ‘varsity scarf, into a church.

And silence.

Reasons To Be Thankful

Hohenklingen Castle rises above a cottage in Stein am Rhein. 1 August, Swiss National Day

After endless weeks of wonderful sunshine, it’s finally raining – and like the plants and trees all around me, I am filled with gratitude. It makes a change to sit outside on my little terrace sheltered by the balcony above me, and enjoy breathing in this fresh, damp air, seeing the grass, leaves and flowers reviving, and listening to the soothing sound of the falling rain. Nature, too, is grateful.

Evening on Lake Walensee

Prior to this, I have been away: visiting my daughter and son-in-law at the end of July and beginning of August, and my best friend for the following two weeks. With the fantastic weather I felt I was on holiday, so my thankfulness also extends to my hosts/hostesses:  I have been pampered and cossetted like royalty! It was also an opportunity to meet and catch up with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all growing apace and even starting to overtake me in height. It also brought another instalment of assorted cheeses from my middle granddaughter and her husband as they continue to fulfil their promise to me on my 80th birthday, to give me 80 different sorts of cheese!

With my daughter and son-in-law, I was also able to see a little more of Switzerland, places I know but haven’t visited for a long time  – the picturesque little town of Frauenfeld, the pretty marina at Steckborn on Lake Constance, 

Steckborn marina

the quaint village of Stein am Rhein 

Village Square, Stein am Rhein

and the magnificent scenery around Lake Lucerne. 

Lake Lucerne from Hergiswil
Steamer on Lake Lucerne

The current President of Switzerland, Alain Berset, happened to be visiting Stein am Rhein on the same day we were there, and it was heartening to see with what little fuss and bother he is able to move around the country. Yes, there was a very unobtrusive bodyguard, but Mr Berset stepped from his car on the public carpark, a rucksack slung over his shoulder, strolled to the helicopter waiting in a neighbouring field and flew off to his next appointment as casually as if he were catching a bus. A few people who happened to be walking by the river stopped to watch, their attention caught by the helicopter, but it was really no big deal. That says a lot about the security of this country.

Helicopter waiting for the President of Switzerland to board – not exactly Airforce1

Many of you responded to my last post, so thanks for your insightful comments. I’m relieved to report that the gentleman in question messaged my friend with an apology and assurance of his enduring friendship. I now know quite a lot more about the lady’s background and I think I understand where her low self-esteem is coming from. We shouldn’t be over-hasty in judging these two; they live in a milieu that really does put accomplishments above character, which I think is very sad. 

Super Sturgeon Moon

I am particularly grateful to my hostesses for their kind understanding of my “Noom needs”: support for my dietary requirements and encouragement to exercise. My best friend has a swimming pool, so I was able to do my 50 lengths (600m) each morning before breakfasting at the side of the pool. In fact, we spent most daylight hours in and by the pool. Just like a super luxury hotel! A very blessed time indeed. Happiness, I am convinced, is a side-effect of an attitude of gratitude.

Morning swim

And having mentioned Noom, I suppose I should give a quick update. Yes, I can recommend this programme. The diet is very sensible and healthy, easy to implement even when I’m eating out or at someone else’s house, and the frequent little prompts and cues – which would be annoying if it were a person nagging – are actually quite helpful and encouraging. I have managed to reach my target number of daily steps and to exercise a bit (especially the swimming) and I can report that since 16 July I have lost 3 ½ kg, which is 7lbs or (for my British readers) half a stone. Something else that I can be grateful for. I seem to have hit a plateau this week, but Noom is reassuring about that, too. So onwards and – downwards! 

Snub or Snob?

Recently, I was at a friend’s house when another old friend, David*, arrived with his partner Margaret.* I had already met David a couple of times, but I wasn’t acquainted with his lady. The four of us  enjoyed an animated conversation over dinner, ranging over a number of different topics. Alone with Margaret – who I knew had taught at a university and therefore had publications to her name – I innocently inquired what her field was, and what her speciality. She informed me very briefly, then continued telling me about her grandchild and the time they had just spent together.

A little later, however, David turned to our hostess and asked in a most accusatory tone, “How come you didn’t tell Cat about Margaret?” Nonplussed, my friend said that she had told me about her. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, ”she didn’t know that Margaret is a highly distinguished scholar and a world authority on her speciality.” 

Margaret nodded “Yes,” she said sourly, “I wonder what exactly you did tell her about me, since you didn’t mention the most important thing!”

My friend explained that as I didn’t yet know Margaret she had simply told me that she was David’s partner, and a university professor. She may indeed have mentioned Margaret’s field of study but I hadn’t registered that fact. This explanation only added fuel to the fire: Margaret felt that her status had been greatly reduced, if all I had been told about her was that she was an appendage to David. Alas, she most definitely felt snubbed. Feathers were very ruffled. I also tried to defuse the atmosphere by saying that in my opinion, what matters is not so much what a person does but rather who the person is. In addition, we are all well past retiring age so you can’t really assume that we are all still working– although  as it turned out, we are.

No, no, no! David and Margaret were both very adamant that what you do professionally defines who you are: your achievements and social standing are primordial, your identity is shaped by your work. There was no budging them on that, and Margaret’s wounded pride may sadly mark the end of a very long friendship between my friend and David, although I fervently hope not

However, the question raised has occupied my thoughts since this event. 

I agree that we probably choose our career path as a function of our tastes and talents as well as whatever opportunities come our way. Personally, I could never have had a career in medicine or engineering, for instance. But over the years, I’ve filled a multitude of roles both personally and professionally, and not all in the same field, interacting with people at many different levels of the social and academic scale, and making friends with people from all walks of life. It seems snobbish to me to put a higher value on a person because he or she has a title – be it academic or noble – than one who is equally faithful, fun and sincere but at the bottom of the class system. Prince or pauper, for me it’s character that counts. 

I put this same question to my readers, and would really be very interested to know where you stand on this issue.

Are our accomplishments more important than our character? 

Am I the person I am because of my professional success or failure? 

And does that set the criteria for my personal worth?

Do you value yourself for what you do or for what you are? 

And do you value your friends for what they do or for what they are? 

*Names changed to protect the innocent!