Family heirloom: Alvis hare

When I pop my clogs, my daughter and granddaughters will inherit a few things that they may not be terribly enthusiastic about – but woe betide them if they dump them, because then I shall surely come back to haunt them! Be warned, my sweet Swiss Rose, and your equally sweet rosebuds!

Alvis hare radiator mascot

Here is one of them: one of my earliest playthings, this brass hare served as a doorstop in my parents’ house for as long as I can remember – how they acquired it, I have no idea. My father had a habit of picking things up “that might come in useful” or that took his fancy, so he could have found it anywhere. It originally came from an Alvis car, made in Coventry, England, around a hundred years ago.

I discovered that there had been at least four different versions of the hare mascot and they are still being manufactured today by the Louis Lejeune mascot company. I can vouch for the fact that mine is even older than me, and indeed it’s one of the earliest, known as the “big paws” model. From 1928 onwards they were chrome-plated and carried the signature of their maker AEL (for AE Lejeune). Mine, however, is brass, has never been chromed, and has no signature, making it pre-1928. Its age was verified by Mr Dave Rees of Red Triangle Customer Service who told me:

There were many different versions of Hares used to embellish the radiator caps of various Alvis cars, the one depicted in your photo I have seen on a 10/30 from 1922. There are only 2 10/30 cars known to exist still, one of which is in restored condition and the other has not been restored and I couldn’t tell you the condition of that one.

Whilst your hare may not have originally come from a 10/30, it most certainly would have been from a very early Alvis car made in all likelihood before 1923.

The mascot that was similar to yours that I have seen in use was not chromed and the owner is very thorough about his restorations, so I believe that having it the finish yours is in would be correct.

The 10/30 was a beautiful car so I ordered a print of a coloured drawing showing a 1921 10/30 Alvis with my hare sitting proudly atop the radiator. That’s probably the nearest I’ll ever come to reuniting him with his original vehicle. 

If you want to know more about Alvis cars, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/ieqGgY349RI?list=PL9YdRRejyRzn72ydzc1ZsqUxx6RlkaCix

Bad Ragaz to Frauenfeld via Wil – A Glimpse of Eastern Switzerland

A number of people have asked me where I live in Switzerland, but are often none the wiser when I tell them. And yet my village has been world-famous for its high-class spa since the belle époque, when it welcomed many of the crowned heads of Europe and whoever was among the great and glorious of their time.  It’s also part of the location of the children’s story of Heidi, as this is where her friend Klara was staying in the grand hotel. 

Bad Ragaz sits on the bank of the river Rhine; not far from the border with Austria, just south of the Principality of Liechtenstein, and at the entrance to the canton of the Grey League (Graubünden / Grisons / Grischuna / Grigione in the national languages of Switzerland). In addition to its natural hot springs, it’s also a winter ski resort and a very pleasant place to spend a hiking holiday the rest of the year. 

Bridge over our other river, the Tamina

At the moment, spring is bursting out all over and the short walk from my home to the station on Wednesday took me an extra five minutes as I stopped to admire and photograph some of the beauty en route. 

The way to the railway station, Bad Ragaz
For passers-by to enjoy
A cherry tree with both pink and white blossoms
A former hotel now home to several businesses and a restaurant
Bad Ragaz railway station

I was on my way to visit my daughter and son-in-law who live two hours away in the picturesque little town of Frauenfeld, capital city of the canton of Thurgau. I took the train that runs alongside the Rhine and then veers off westwards to St Gallen, and disembarked in another small town that few foreigners have heard, of called Wil, where I was met by my daughter and my five-year-old great-granddaughter. 

Mini-garden in Wil’s pedestrianised High Street

Like many other obscure small Swiss towns, Wil has a gem of an old town and an attractive pedestrian shopping area leading up to it. This week, the pedestrian-only  high street is showcasing a garden competition – not quite Chelsea Flower Show, but some very pretty exhibits nonetheless that I couldn’t resist recording on my phone. 

Another mini-garden
and another
On the way to the restaurant

Since I arrived at precisely 12 noon, our first thought was to find a place to have lunch and as the sun was shining we decided to go to the Italian restaurant which has a terrace beside the little lake just below what used to be the city wall and is now a tight ring of mediaeval houses perched above a vertiginous bank of gardens. 

Wiler Weiher with mediaeval houses of the old town
Australian black swans – far from home

Our little girl was most appreciative of her pizza with pineapple (half of it went home with her), and eager to explore the surroundings of the lake which is home to many different kinds of water fowl. There is also an impressive fountain in the middle, a small sister to Geneva’s  famous jet d’eau

Wil’s “Jet d’eau”
Bridge decorated for Easter
Easter Bunnies on bridge
one girl and her dog …

We stopped briefly for an ice-cream on the way back to the car, and finally took our little one back home. There we received a warm welcome from my eldest granddaughter and her other children, and were fed tea and delicious home baked cake. Consequently, on arrival at my daughter’s home in Frauenfeld, we had to disappoint my son-in-law who was looking forward to eating dinner with us – we just had no room left!  

Home sweet home – the Little Washhouse where my daughter lives

Yesterday morning, my daughter and I took the dog for her usual run in the woodland on the edge of town that’s just down the road from my daughter’s house. This, for my great-grandchildren, is the “enchanted forest”, a wildlife preserve with a small river and canal running through it, where beavers are building dams under the watchful eyes of the herons, ducks and jays, and there is a neat little campfire site with a covered supply of firewood.

Beaver dam
Ready for the next barbecue

A quaint club nearby hut always has some kind of seasonal display outside for the children to admire, and at the moment it has the added attraction that some generous person has slipped a few chocolate Easter eggs into the arrangement. 

Club hut
3D Easter display
Along the canal
The Washhouse and the neighbouring Mill

Home again, and a quick look around the garden where tulips abound as well as other harbingers of spring, and inside the house there is also no lack of greenery – mostly orchids, one of my son-in-law’s passions. $

The bird bath that my grandfather carved used to be in my mother’s garden – now it has a new home here
Bathroom windowsill

Home sweet home!

Orchid bulbs
This reminds me of the Queen of the Night in th The Magic Flute!

Now getting ready for Easter and the arrival of the rest of the family. Oh yes, there’s another lovely gathering of the clan this weekend, and a chance to catch up with all my descendants. Well worth the journey from Bad Ragaz to Frauenfeld. 

So That Was Christmas …

Memories fade, but salient moments remain. I have tried to make the last year into one of gratitude, and what I chiefly remember about 2021 are those moments for which I shall forever be very thankful. Too many to recount here, but I will give you a quick glimpse into my happy Christmas celebrations spent with my family.

That was delicious! Thank you!

First, I have to say that although we are all quite different characters, we are blessed in that we mostly get along. It always saddens me when I hear about families who fall out and argue, and don’t make up in time for Christmas. Harmony is such a vital ingredient for the joy, peace and hope that we all want as our basic Christmas gifts. So although my eldest granddaughter was away by the seaside in Brittany with her husband and four kids, the rest of us gathered on Christmas Day for a traditional turkey feast. All adults except for the littlest one, who entertained us as only a toddler can, and all very relaxed and at ease. 

My daughter had been busy with her knitting needles, so as place markers each of us found a woolly hat over the champagne flute with our name tag attached. All different colours and slightly different patterns, and all very warm and welcome as the cold weather approaches (oh yes, the temperature over the last couple of weeks has been like spring, so no chance of a white Christmas this year again). 

When we heaved ourselves out of our comfy chairs in the evening and set out for a digestive walk around the neighbourhood, we were very glad of our warm woolly headgear, although – as someone remarked – we may have borne a very close resemblance to Snow White and the seven dwarves as we paraded along.

My Christmas presents included pyjamas, a Latin version of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit (for a chuckle – I’m pleased I haven’t forgotten all my Latin, after all!) and ten more cheeses towards the 80 I’m receiving in instalments over the current year.

To my great glee, a barely whispered prayer was answered a couple of days later. Peacefully sitting watching my daughter knitting her next pullover, I was chiding myself for having forgotten to bring along a crochet hook and some yarn to keep my own itchy fingers busy. 

All different cheeses – I’m rapidly losing count but they all taste very yummy

At that moment, my middle granddaughter A. – also a keen knitter – dropped in with a present she had received from her sister-in-law D., who didn’t realise that A. doesn’t use acrylic yarn, doesn’t like bright colours, and doesn’t crochet.

The present consisted of a set of 20 balls of very brightly coloured acrylic yarn plus two crochet hooks, 2 tapestry needles and 8 stitch markers.

A. had asked D. if she would mind her passing this onto me, was given permission, and I was delighted. I instantly began on a project that has been tempting me for some time, and with the addition of a few extra skeins of black yarn to temper the brightness I am now well underway. Thank you, both A. and D.! This may turn out to be yet another family heirloom – or something for the thrift shop – when I’m gone.

And so 2021 came to a close with fireworks banging and church bells pealing, and we are now already into 2022.

I commented elsewhere that 2022 looks as if most of the ducks are in a row – let’s hope it will be a good year. Whatever lies ahead, with smiles and tears alternating as usual, even if our dreams don’t come true, I am sure we will all be able to find something to be grateful for.

Hang Up The Baby’s Stocking

CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS AND A HAPPY, HEALTHY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL!

My mother had seven siblings younger than herself, so it was befitting that her standard Christmas poem to be recited on Christmas Eve was “Hang up the Baby’s stocking”. It seemed that as she was growing up, there was almost always a new baby in the house who had “never seen Christmas yet”. 

It was a family tradition, as our Swiss family started to grow, for my parents to fly over from the UK each year and spend Christmas with us and their great-grandchildren, which offered a wonderful opportunity on several occasions for my mother to repeat her girlhood success in reciting this rather soppy Victorian poem. 

We now have another baby in the family, my fifth great-grandchild, who fits the little one in the poem down to a T with her “big blue eyes” and “looks so funny and wise”. So here it is, in memory of my mother and all the tots for whom she recited this poem. Don’t cringe!

Hang up the Baby’s stocking
by Emily Huntington Miller

Hang up the baby’s stocking:
    Be sure you don’t forget;
The dear little dimpled darling!
    She ne’er saw Christmas yet;
But I’ve told her all about it,
    And she opened her big blue eyes,
And I’m sure she understood it—
    She looked so funny and wise.

Dear! what a tiny stocking!
    It doesn’t take much to hold
Such little pink toes as baby’s
    Away from the frost and cold.
But then for the baby’s Christmas
    It will never do at all;
Why, Santa wouldn’t be looking
    For anything half so small.

I know what will do for the baby.
    I’ve thought of the very best plan:
I’ll borrow a stocking of grandma,
    The longest that ever I can;
And you’ll hang it by mine, dear mother,
    Right here in the corner, so!
And write a letter to Santa,
    And fasten it on to the toe.

Write, “This is the baby’s stocking
    That hangs in the corner here;
You never have seen her, Santa,
    For she only came this year;
But she’s just the blessedest baby!
    And now, before you go,
Just cram her stocking with goodies,
    From the top clean down to the toe.”

Two Sisters

Ella Helena Sommer, our grandmother from my last post, had a sister, Amalia Margaretha (Malchen) who was seven years older than Ella. Despite the age gap, they were close and in their later years of widowhood almost inseparable. I only knew Tante Malchen as another little bent, black-garbed, white-haired old lady, but she shared that same indomitable spirit that I wrote about a few years ago in my post Daughters of Kunigunda.

These are the two little girls, firstly as babies and then aged about 14, at their respective confirmations, gazing out confidently at the world, unaware of the turbulence that lay ahead in the twentieth century. They spent their entire lives in the same village where they were born, where they knew everyone, and everything about everyone. In fact, Malchen only ever lived in one house, that of her parents, which was later passed on to her son. She once asked me, shaking her head in disbelief when she heard we were moving to Switzerland, “How can you go and live somewhere where you don’t know anyone?” It was a rhetorical question: she might as well have been asking me if it was possible to live on an iceberg.

Ella Helena 1900

Amalia Margaretha 1893
Amalia Margaretha 1907 (Confirmation)
Ella Helena 1914 (Confirmation)

As a young girl, Malchen fell in love with a slim, dark-haired young man called Rudolf. They were both only 17 when they married, on 21 July 1911, and for the sake of convenience they moved in with her parents. Their son Friedrich Ludwig – named for his two grandfathers – arrived in September 1914 but this was no reason to prevent Rudolf from being drafted into the Bavarian Infantry to fight in the trenches of World War I. He never saw his son again.

Many years later, Malchen showed me her little box of souvenirs, containing a dried red rose, a photo, some letters from Rudolf during his military service, and the notice of his death: killed in action in Flanders on 25 April 1918.  He was the great love of her life, and she remained in mourning for him until she died in her eighties.

It was lucky for Malchen that she continued living with her parents, however, especially when her son fell ill with polio. This left him with a lifelong disability, although he was intelligent enough to be able to train as a bank clerk and diligently work his way up to become the manager of the local bank. Malchen was very proud of his achievements, especially as despite all the odds he married and had a daughter. He was able to have the family home extended by having an extra storey built onto it, and so there was room for all four generations to live together under one roof.

The two sisters grew even closer in the early 1950’s, after the death of their parents, followed by that of Ella’s only son and her husband in rapid succession. When I first met her, Malchen would trot up the hill to visit her “little” sister practically every day, and they would exchange news and items of interest – no, please don’t call it gossip! 

Later, when she was less mobile, she would sit by her window looking out onto the main street, watching the world turn and chatting with every passer-by. She was probably the best informed person in the village and she remembered everything she heard. Her sister came a close second. Both of them could tell a tale, and it was a delight to listen to them delivering their versions of local current events – the “hatched, matched and dispatched” – as they wove them into their memories of days gone by. God rest their souls, they could have written a wonderful local history book. 

“Well, you know, X never had a chance of success. Just look at how his father lived! And I remember when his grandfather was a young man …”

Tales of a German Grandmother

I can’t tell these tales the way Oma did – she was the heroine of them all, but she told them with an amused twinkle in her eye, without boasting and in her broad Pfälzisch dialect, reliving the situations and events as she spoke. We actually managed to record her surreptitiously one day, but sadly someone recorded something else on that tape, and erased Oma’s reminiscings

She was born in 1900 and only 64 when I first met her, but she considered herself an old woman and dressed accordingly in black or navy blue as befitted a widow, her snowy white hair tied in a bun in the nape of her neck. She looked like a million other old women aged between 60 and 90 in Germany at that time. Grey stockings rather than black and maybe a white collar were her only concessions to the fact that widow’s weeds were only supposed to be worn for a year. She was in permanent mourning for her husband and her son who had died ten years previously. 

***

At the end of WWI, the village of Lemberg in the Palatinate of the Rhine was in the zone occupied by the French army. Ella was 18 or 19 at the time, an attractive, lively girl. She had no love or respect for the French, and certainly not for the puny little men prancing around playing heroes, and treating the local Germans like dirt. One day, she went to the family garden where they were growing much needed vegetables and fruit, and discovered a French soldier scrumping apples from her tree. Pitchfork in hand, she went into battle and chased him, screaming for his life, right through the village all the way to the army camp, where she halted only because of the armed guards on duty at the gate. After that, her apple tree and vegetable garden were safe. Her opinion of the French army was unprintable.

***

One evening during the Third Reich her husband Albert didn’t come home from the local pub, so Ella went out to look for him.

“Oh,” she was told, “He’s been arrested and he’s in the lock-up.”

“Arrested? What for?”

“Political offence.”

“But Albert isn’t interested in politics. What’s he done?

“Insulted the Führer!”

Ella was shocked and perplexed: meek and mild Albert had insulted the Führer? And now he was in jail. It was too late for her to do anything about it that night, so she went home to bed still puzzling over what on earth he could have done. First thing next morning she presented herself at the police station to enquire about the case and rescue her criminal husband. After all the formalities had been settled, she confronted him. What had happened?

“Well, we were in the middle of a card game and the innkeeper came and told us we had to leave because he was closing. We said we’d like to finish the game, but he insisted. Said there was a curfew, it was time, and he had to close by order of the Führer.”

“And?” asked Ella.

“I said the Führer can kiss my arse. So he reported me and I was arrested.”

Führerbeleidigung was a very serious matter.

***

There are no secrets in a village. Ella heard on the grapevine that her husband was cheating on her with another woman from the village, so she decided to deal with the situation. She knew that the woman in question was due to arrive back on the bus at a given time, so she marched off to the bus stop to meet her. It was raining, so she took her big black umbrella with her, and when the woman alighted from the bus Ella laid into her with her umbrella and beat her black and blue. That put an end to the affair. 

I always wondered how her husband regarded this. Alas, he was no longer around to give his side of the story.

***

During WWII, an SS group was stationed to Lemberg. The Kommandant decided that Ella’s and Albert’s house overlooking the village was an ideal location for his Kommandatur. He set up his HQ in the kitchen, which was cosy and warm because of the big iron range that was constantly burning, as this was where Ella cooked and baked. 

One day, a young soldier arrived to be reprimanded because of some misdemeanour he had committed. Ella felt sorry for this young lad who was only a couple of years older than her own son, as he stood quaking in his boots before the SS Captain. When the Captain finally dismissed him, she told the private to sit down and placed a bowl of stew before him. The lad was obviously hungry and about to tuck in when the Captain yelled at him to get out. 

Ella drew herself up to her full height – she was not a small woman – and glared at the Captain. He turned on her and told her off for interfering.

“This is MY HQ and I deal with my men as I like!” he roared.

“And this is MY kitchen, and I cooked that stew, and I can invite whoever I like to eat it!” she snapped, standing between the furious Captain and the table where the soldier was sitting. 

“That boy looks like a scarecrow! You want to win this war with scared, starving kids like that?”  

Then standing guard over the petrified private she added:

“Guten Appetit, junger Mann!” 

And he didn’t dare refuse. 

What’s for dinner, Mom?

What did you eat as a child that your grandchildren – or, in my case, great-grandchildren – have never experienced?

Well, that shouldn’t be too hard to answer: not only did I grow up in an entirely different age but also in a different country, so not only the historical circumstances but also the cultural context are very different. My eldest granddaughter’s kids are enjoying a healthy lifestyle in rural Switzerland – you can’t get much better foodwise than that! My youngest great-granddaughter is in suburban France but not yet properly weaned, so can’t really be included in this mini-survey. 

I, on the other hand, grew up in an English industrial town during WWII with rationing at its strictest during my earliest years because very little food could be imported and we had to rely on the limited amounts that could be produced domestically. Added to which, I was a fussy eater and didn’t like most of the few things that were to be had, especially meat. However, some of the things I did like would probably make my great-grandchildren shudder. Dried egg, for instance, which I would surreptitiously teaspoon out of its tin behind my mother’s back. My lasting memory isn’t of the taste but of the texture of this strange dry powder that clung to the roof of the mouth. And rationing continued long after WWII ended in 1945: sweets didn’t come “off ration” until 1953 and meat until mid 1954. 

To put you in the picture, this is a typical weekly food ration for an adult in the 1940’s:

  • Bacon & Ham              4 oz (120 g)
  • Other meat                  value of 1 shilling and 2 pence (equivalent to 2 chops)
  • Butter                            2 oz (60 g)
  • Cheese                          2 oz (60 g)
  • Margarine                    4 oz (120 g)
  • Cooking fat                  4 oz (120 g)
  • Milk                               3 pints (1.5 l)
  • Sugar                             8 oz (240 g)
  • Preserves                     1 lb every 2 months (480 g)
  • Tea (loose)                  2 oz (60 g)
  • Eggs                               1 fresh egg (plus 12 portions of dried egg every 2 months)
  • Sweets                          12 oz every 4 weeks (360 g)

Bread, fish and chips weren’t rationed, but of course fish and potatoes were available in limited quantities so portions were small. Fishermen definitely weren’t so keen to go out with German U-boats lurking in their fishing grounds. Bread was not what we think of as such nowadays. People supplemented their rations with what they could grow in their gardens and allotments, but even seeds were limited in variety as well as in availability. 

Children received a few little extras: 3 eggs a week, for example. We were supplied with medicine bottles of “Welfare” concentrated orange juice imported from the USA, and cod-liver oil. A spoonful of a brown sticky stuff called “Vimaltol” “Virol” or “Radio Malt” was also administered daily – this was a vitamin supplement made from malt extract to prevent us getting rickets. Would little kids nowadays enjoy this sickeningly sweet goo?

It all sounds pretty awful, but in fact rationing had a positive effect on both health and longevity among the British public, and obesity was definitely not a problem! 

So what other things did I eat that my great-grandchildren have never heard of?

They may have come across Spam in some form or other, but I doubt if they have tried whale meat, which also came in tins. Another tinned (or canned for my US readers) item was very overcooked spaghetti in tomato sauce, which we ate warmed up on toast. I think this was sometimes included in Sunday breakfast, along with sausages, bacon and egg as an alternative to baked beans. Or perhaps that was just me. The toast was made by holding a slice of bread on a toasting fork over the red-hot embers of a coal fire, which gave it a distinctive taste you just don’t get from an electric toaster. There was a knack in the way you put the bread onto the toasting fork, as if you did it wrong your toast would fall off into the fire. 

A big treat at birthday parties was jelly and blancmange. Although they may be familiar with jelly I don’t think my kids know what blancmange is, and the idea of eating tinned fruit (peaches or apricots in particular) using tinned evaporated milk as a substitute for cream with a slice of bread and butter on the side would seem very weird to them, but real cream was an unknown luxury. 

This has made me reflect deeply about the changes in  my diet over my lifetime: maybe I should go back to some of the principles on which the Ministry of Food based its decisions in that very difficult decade of the 1940’s. Most of all, portion size!

More on this here for those interested  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationing_in_the_United_Kingdom and https://www.cooksinfo.com/british-wartime-food/

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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.