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Autumn in the Air

The Walensee must be one of Switzerland’s most picturesque lakes: not really very big or famous, but the rocky cliff face of the Churfirsten mountains plunges dramatically into its clear blue waters. At the eastern end, the shore has been beautifully landscaped into parkland and a playground for children. On the lower slopes of the mountains, before they rise in sheer granite cliffs, are vineyards, the vines currently beginning to change colour and laden with heavy clumps of dark purple grapes almost ready for harvesting. In a week or so, these trees will also be blazing red and gold.

The day after I took these photos, the weather had changed and so had the mood of the lake, reflecting a more ominous sky and throwing up plenty of driftwood, including some impressively sized tree trunks.

This little church perched atop a steep hill always makes me smile: and I admire the tenacity and endurance of those who presumably used to have to walk up to it. That would be beyond me nowadays!

It would seem I’m not the only one smiling. A felicitous moment when two paragliders aligned in just the right spot as I raised my iPhone!

Time of day also influences the atmosphere, and to my mind the few minutes of Alpenglüh when the granite face of the mountains to the north-east reflects back the glow of the setting sun rivals the glory of the rainbow.

Finally, today the first snow on these mountains …

Left-Brain Fairy Tale

“Let me tell you a story,” I said to my millennial grandson when he was about nine. 

He acquiesced, probably out of politeness to his aged grandmother.

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived up on the top of that mountain,” I gestured towards the peak towering above our village.

“Was she a dwarf?” he asked.

“Er – I’m not sure,” I hadn’t developed my story quite to that point.

“She was the daughter of the King of the Mountain …”

“The King of the Mountain was a dwarf,” he stated in an irrefutable tone. 

I considered that irrelevant and continued:

“… and she spent most of her time wandering around exploring the …”

“Did she have a snowboard?”

“A snowboard?”

“There’s a lot of snow up there in winter.” He was, of course, right. “Or skis. She might have had a sledge.”

“Well, maybe she did, but she was a magical princess and she could fly …”

“Did she paraglide? Or did she sky-dive?”

“I think she sort of floated on the breeze …”

“In a wingsuit?”

My mental image of my fairy princess drifting like thistledown over the mountaintops began to waver.

“Sometimes she rode on the back of an eagle, and …”

“Oh, so she must have been a dwarf. Or a midget.”

I decided to ignore this and continued with my depiction of my beautiful magical princess.

“One time she flew into a rainbow, and took it for a cloak that she wrapped around her …”

“Did she get wet?”

“Wet?”

He rolled his eyes and patiently mansplained to me that a rainbow is the result of light being refracted through raindrops, so it would inevitably be wet. I valiantly returned to my story.

“She was very loving. She knew and took care of all the animals that lived on the mountain …”

“A lot of them have fleas. Was she a vet?”

At this point, I gave up.

“Would you like to tell me a story?” I asked.

“Not really, Granny. I’d rather play Minecraft.”

Bad RagARTz 2021

One of the many beautifully succinct words in German that have no real equivalent in English is verarschen. The idea is universal: mischievously or maliciously ridiculing someone pretentious, by appearing to take their pretentions seriously. The root of the verb is “Arsch” (arse) so it isn’t a very polite word, but it is absolutely appropriate – at least in my humble opinion – for much of the art currently being exhibited here in my village of Bad Ragatz under the title of “Bad RagARTz”. I submit that it would be more appropriate to write that as “Bad Rag Arts”.

The exhibition is a triennial event, and the sculptures comprising this year’s offering have been on show since May.  It involves a lot of money so has to be taken seriously. There are 400 works on show this year, by a total of 83 artists, making it the biggest open-air sculpture exhibition in Europe, and it certainly has been attracting lots of interest judging by the large numbers of people wandering around singly or in groups. Hopefully, our local economy has been benefiting from these. It needs an uplift in these sad Covid times. You can see some of the exhibits if you google Bad Ragartz 2021 and click on images.

I have passed by a number of the sculptures on my regular visits ”downtown”, as they are scattered all around the village as well as throughout our lovely parks. In fact, I integrated myself into one of them, a group of three female figures sitting on a bench (benches are becoming a theme with me!) with just enough room for me to sit and eat my ice-cream cone. An amusing and instructive experience: some passers-by didn’t notice me at all, others did a double-take – some even came back to make sure I was real – whilst others grinned and even made comments (all positive, I’m glad to say).

A chainsaw well used by this artist

Yesterday morning I took advantage of a friend’s visit to spend an hour or so looking closely at the sculptures in the nearby Kurpark (spa gardens). We both share the simple opinion that a true work of art should speak for itself and not need a lengthy explanation, although you can sign up and pay for a guided tour if you feel that some of the exhibits are beyond your comprehension. Or if you want to appear intellectual rather than confessing that you are a philistine.

My friend summed up her impression in four words: “The Emperor’s new clothes!” Mine was expressed in one: “Verarschung!“   

Well, that was perhaps too harsh. We picked out two or three works that we admitted we would allow onto our own private properties if we had sufficient space to display them adequately, and a couple that we admired for the artistry involved, but the overwhelming majority of what we saw was disappointing. There’s always a certain amount of humour represented in the show, happily, and even if we are admittedly unable to appreciate so-called artworks inspired by the school of Josef Beuys and apparently aiming at the Turner Prize, this triennial event does provide food for thought and conversation and I’m sure the local dairy shop has made a killing on its artisanal ice-cream, produced in a wide range of delicious flavours and sold at 3.50 fr a scoop.   

Anniversary

You knew, didn’t you, right after the birth of your second son. It was obvious.  You couldn’t go on like that. 

You never needed a magic mirror to tell you who was the fairest in the land. You only had to look at the young men around you, the ones who didn’t swoon at your feet, only the best looking guys who had the confidence to approach a beauty with the expectation of acceptance, no fear of rejection. Oh yes, you knew who was the prettiest girl and you knew who was the most handsome boy, and so did he. Like opposite poles of a magnet. And you looked like a couple of film stars on your wedding day, glowing and sparkling like diamonds. But good looks alone, as you soon found out, don’t guarantee the happy-ever-after marriage.   

You did your best, both of you. You really tried, and you had the second child in the hope that this baby would be the glue that stuck the shattered pieces back together. It wasn’t. Then one day he didn’t come home from work. Nor the next day. You waited, wondered, continued with your life because somebody had to cook and clean and look after the children, and you thought: Maybe he just needs a break, he’ll be back soon. 

A week later a postcard arrived from Marseilles: I have joined the Foreign Legion. 

You exploded in anger and frustration, screamed and wept, banged your fist and stamped your feet at such crass egotism and lack of consideration. Money arrived at irregular intervals and in varying amounts, so you had no alternative: you had to find a job and childcare. An attractive face and figure are always welcome at the reception desk of any company, so that wasn’t too difficult and you also had enough of a brain to pick up the fundamentals of accounting. In no time, you were a career woman. And you were lucky with the childcare, too.

Routine set in, and the boat of your life stopped rocking for a while as you seemed to be sailing smoothly downstream, steering your own course. Up in the morning, drop off the children, work till lunchtime, have lunch in the restaurant just down the road, work again in the afternoon, pick up the children and play your role of mother in the evenings and at weekends.

Of course there were men who’d flirt a little with you and occasionally try to arrange a date, but you were once bitten, twice shy, and in any case, even though he’d disappeared, you did have a husband. On paper, at least. Sometimes that was a handy excuse, and you continued wearing your wedding ring to deter unwanted attentions. No excitement, but you felt in a way you had had enough excitement. Now and then you wondered if you should sue for divorce, but then you’d think, why bother?

And so life drifted on until the telegram arrived. Out of the blue it came, with the news that your husband had been killed in action in a place you had never heard of. You hadn’t seen him for years, and you felt a tinge of guilt at your indifference. The children had completely forgotten him.  Later, a box arrived with his effects and quite a large sum of money was paid into your bank account.

Kids, we can have a holiday! 

There was enough for you all to go away for a month, a great holiday for the three of you with sun, sand and sea, plenty of fun things to do and no need to count the pennies. You came back feeling ten years younger and radiant.

On Monday morning, you slipped back into the old routine: school run, work, and at midday you headed off to the restaurant as usual. Oh, but your table was occupied. You looked around for a free seat, and met a pair of bright blue eyes in a face brimming over with joy.

Oh, great! You’re back! It’s so wonderful to see you again!

Who is this? Do I know this man?

I was so worried about you. I thought something awful must have happened. I’m so pleased to see you looking so well, and so glad you’re here again.

You looked at this happy face and remembered that this man was another regular at the restaurant, one of the people you nodded to when you came in but had never actually spoken to.

Somebody else has taken your table, but I’d be very honoured if you’d join me … if you don’t mind …

Why not? He seems pleasant enough, and after all you had been lunching in the same restaurant almost every day for the past few years. You smiled and sat down opposite him.

Your holiday mood hadn’t quite dissipated, and he sounded like good company even though, as you quickly realised, he was actually quite shy. Not a man to go rushing in where angels fear to tread. But he explained in the first few minutes that he had been trying to pluck up courage to speak to you for a very long time. Then, on the day he had finally decided on what he would say to you by way of introduction, you weren’t there. And you weren’t there all the rest of that week, nor the week after. He could have kicked himself for his lack of courage, for not having approached you before when he had the opportunity, and now he feared you had either left your job or something dreadful had happened to you. He was in despair, and full of self-reproach. Ah, but now you were here again, and this time he had seized his courage in both hands and dared to open his mouth. He explained all this and then, to your great amazement, blushed bright red to the roots of his hair.

You were very touched by his candour, and for the first time in many years you, the ice maiden, melted. Gently, warmly, you responded. Your conversation came from depths that you both normally never sounded, and your souls recognised their affinity. He was ten years older than you, had never been married, and had given up hope of ever finding the right person although, as he confessed, he had been admiring you from afar for a very long time but in the way one pays homage to the unattainable. Now, suddenly, you were within his sphere and he reached out, daring to connect. And connect you did, on every imaginable level. No time to lose. You were married six weeks later. 

Happy ruby wedding!

Ten Years Already!

It came as a mild shock to realise that I have now had this blog for ten years. What a lot of water under the bridge! There I was in September 2011, plodding along comfortably in what the French call “le train-train quotidien” with no expectations of any major changes in my life, when I decided to upload my bits ‘n’ bobs of versification and musings on events plus the odd painting. Pussyfooting about the pond of my life, as I saw it at the time. And then – whoosh! I was swept right into the water and had to learn to swim.

I repeat for the nth time how glad I am that I have never known what lay ahead of me! But this blog has been more valuable to me in the past decade than I could ever have imagined at that time. It has provided an outlet during some difficult days, as well as an introduction to some precious cyber friends whom I would otherwise never have had any contact with. I look back over these posts, dipping in here and there, and find things I had completely forgotten writing about, and remembering others very vividly.

My posts have been less frequent recently, and – to continue my metaphor – I think I have probably hauled myself back onto the shore for a short respite. At least, I’m not paddling quite as madly as I was a few years ago! Time to pause and take stock again.

My perspective has changed, and what I saw as a pond or pool now looks much more like a stream or river. It flows, imperceptibly and subtly changing from one moment to the next, never exactly the same as the water swirls and ripples, reflecting different colours and shades as the light fall varies. There’s nothing new or original about this perception. “Panta rei” – all things flow – wrote Heraclitus, observing famously that we can’t step into the same river twice.

So here I am already, beginning a second decade of blogging. How will that go? Will blogs even exist in ten years’ time? More to the point, am I likely still to be alive and able to blog in another ten years? If I am still here, I hope I’ll still be able to communicate in some way, that I’ll have something worthwhile to pass on, and that there will still be a few folk around who understand and appreciate my ramblings. 

I sat down on a bench last Saturday morning to wait for a friend to come back from the post office, and a little old lady parked herself beside me. We didn’t know each other, but were soon chatting away and exchanging platitudes such as “I’m so grateful to wake up in the morning without any pain” and “What a beautiful world this is!” (we are in the Swiss Alps after all!). 

We were then joined by another lady passing by, who knew my new acquaintance, so I was very soon informed about all the salient details of their lives, including their ages and the fact that the newcomer had been happily married for 50 years but couldn’t celebrate properly because of Covid-19 and her husband’s recent hip replacement. When my friend arrived and I said goodbye to them, I thought: I shall probably never see either of these two ladies again, but for a few minutes we were able to cheer, encourage and comfort one another in a world that might well appear threatening. 

I hope that my blog might have a similar effect on those who drop in on it – whether my few faithful followers, or the casual passer-by. Let’s just sit here on this virtual bench for a few minutes and exchange cheering, encouraging and comforting thoughts, as long as the Lord allows.

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!