It’s Mother’s Day here in Switzerland, and once again it falls on my mother’s birthday. She made it almost to 101, and would have been 105 today.
She was a lover of flowers and we made it a regular habit to visit a bluebell wood on her birthday (or as close as we could get) which always brought her great joy. England has plenty of bluebell woods, even in urban areas, and we usually didn’t have to go very far to find one. It became a tradition, and the 9 May will always be associated in my mind with woodland and bluebells. In fact, I wrote about her very last birthday trip to a bluebell wood here.
Yesterday, as I walked into the village I passed a garden with bluebells growing in its undergrowth – Spanish bluebells rather than English ones and not exactly a bluebell wood like you’d find in England, but a tiny vignette of one: a small gift gratefully received. Bluebells aren’t a traditional Mother’s Day flower, but for me they will always be associated with my mother.
Actually, her favourite flower was lily-of-the-valley, which also could be found blooming in Mom’s garden around this time. If it wasn’t, I would buy her a potted plant with the tiny white bells.
This flower is a traditional gift in France on 1 May – a nice legend here, by the way, that goes back to the Renaissance. It was a custom to give flowering branches to friends as a way of driving out the hardships of winter. In 1560 King Charles IX was visiting the Drôme where he was offered a spray of lily of the valley. On 1 May of the following year, he presented every lady in his court with a spray of this fragrant little flower as a token of good luck.
On my table today is a vase of bright yellow, fragrantly scented roses, a gift from my daughter who visited me a couple of days ago. The number of mothers in our immediate family has grown to four, with my daughter sandwiched between the generations, so today she is fulfilling her role as mother and grandmother rather than as daughter. I hope – and am pretty sure – that her children and grandchildren will have shown their love and appreciation for all she does for them (far more than anyone could expect).
It has been a bright, sunny day, filled with the song of the blackbirds who seem to have nests all around here, also celebrating their motherhood, no doubt. I have also been able to chat with my granddaughter and newest great-granddaughter. I am feeling very blessed.
This week I have been allowed to borrow some very precious old documents with the family trees of my son-in-law, including a particularly ingenious arrangement of heirs in 1886 showing their consanguinity. This brought me back to the Eggs, who occupied my attention for a while a year ago, and it has finally allowed us to fill in some vital missing links as well as solving a few mysteries where several people shared the same name.
Digging around online in the roots of the tree, I came across the story of one of the earliest forebears, a man known as Pierre Arbensen or d’Albenson – until he arrived in Zurich, at which point he became Peter Arbenz.
I have mentioned before that many people in the olden days had a very cavalier attitude towards names, maybe because most of them couldn’t read and write so it was all phonetic. Pronouncing your name in a certain way probably created a more positive impact on the group you wanted to impress, or if your name sounded foreign to them they would translate it or say it as they perceived it. Clerks would then write down what they thought they heard.
Pierre Arbensen/d’Albenson aka Peter Arbenz was born in 1543 in Torgnon in Châtillon, a French-patois speaking village high up in the Aosta Valley on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. The name seems to come from their pasture, called Albenson (which seems strange for a French-speaking area of Italy, but that’s another investigation!).
The family scraped a living, with Pierre and his father selling satin, silk and coral, and his two brothers trading ironware, but life for this family was very hard in their desolate alpine village, especially in winter. After his father died in the mid 1500’s Pierre packed up his wares, crossed the Alps and made his way to the canton of Zurich to seek his fortune.
On 23 August 1567 “Peter Arbensen” appears as godfather at a baptism in Zurich cathedral (Grossmünster) and on 24 October 1567 he is “Petrus Arbesun” as godfather to another child in Winterthur. Eventually he arrived at the town of Elgg near Winterthur, where on 10 May 1570 he married Ursula, the daughter of a successful cloth merchant in the Vordergasse (High Street) who sported the splendid name of Pantaleon Mantel. This man – locally known as Pantli – was also from Torgnon but had been a citizen of Elgg since 1538. He may have been a friend of Peter Arbenz’s father, or simply a business acquaintance.
Their first child, Jacobea, was born on 21 October 1571 in Elgg but they soon moved to the town of Rapperswil where in 1571 Peter Arbenz paid 200 guilders to obtain citizenship. This wouldn’t be Swiss nationality, by the way, or even cantonal citizenship, but only that of the town of Rapperswil, allowing him to settle there and have the same rights and obligations as the native-born citizens. Their second child, Pantaleon, was born there in 1572. Also during their time in Rapperswil, Pantaleon Mantel died. In those days a wife’s property belonged to her husband, so on his father-in-law’s death Peter Arbenz inherited 3,200 pounds of which he had to render 300 pounds as inheritance tax to the canton of Zurich.
In 1577 the young family moved to Andelfingen, a village in the centre of the canton, where Peter was charged 160 pounds as an “admission fee” and 80 pounds “Schirmgeld” or “protection fee” giving him the right of citizenship with permission to settle there and buy land. At first they lived in the “Kloster” which means monastery, but was in fact a farm later known as Felsenhof, and then they bought the upper mill in Andelfingen. Peter and Ursula Arbenz had three more sons, Peter (1577), Martin (1580) and Antoine (1582) all born in Andelfingen.
Peter Arbenz had at least two brothers back in Châtillon. Perhaps his success inspired his younger brother Petitpierre (Little Peter), who had been selling ironware in the Aosta Valley. In 1580 this young man also arrived in Andelfingen and set up as a merchant in the nearby village of Dorf. He married a local girl but had no children. However, in 1589, Antoine (Anton) the son of the third brother, another Panthaleon, also joined his uncle in Dorf bei Andelfingen where he married and fathered the Arbenz dynasty in Dorf.
I have to say that I was a bit confused by the name of Dorf, which means village, until I consulted a map and realised that there is actually a village called Village. This is also a family that likes to use the same names over and over again, so that has also been challenging. However, I think I’ve got it right now and have spouses and offspring, mills and farms, all correctly assigned.
Peter Arbenz’s son Pantaleon inherited the Kloster farm and the mill, but died in 1629 of the plague, which was ravaging the country at the time. Millers were especially vulnerable, as many rats were brought in with the sacks of grain, and it was the rats that spread the disease. In another branch of the Egg family tree, one miller lost his wife and five children to the plague in that same year.
However, on the whole the family was prospering. Pantaleon’s eldest son, another Pantaleon or Pantli (1594-1645), is recorded as “Obermüller, Bärenwirt, Klosterbesitzer” (Miller of the Upper Mill, Innkeeper of the Bear Inn, Owner of Kloster farm) on his death record. When the farmers brought their grain to the mill, they would sit around waiting for it to be ground and during this time the miller would sell them a glass or two of beer or wine. Opening an inn was thus a logical progression and an opportunity to expand the miller’s business. It was also an chance for the miller and his family to glean all the local gossip and various insider tips, which gave them an advantage over the rest of the village.
Prosperity led to social rank and importance: mills were a lucrative business, millers married their sons and daughters into other millers’ families, and so the Arbenz family advanced, acquiring farms, mills and inns in Andelfingen. Not to mention wealth and status.
Pantaleon’s two sons, Pantli III and Hans Jakob, each had a farm and a mill, and seem to have kept the Bear Inn together. The records get a bit tricky at this point, as each of these brothers and most of their descendants kept using the names Pantaleon, Hans Jakob and Ursula in every generation of their families – quite discombobulating! After hours of comparing names and dates in various records and family trees – plus a lot of head-scratching! – I have figured out who’s who, and have managed to trace the descendance of Hans Jakob down to Ursula Arbenz who married Hans Caspar Egg in 1763, and was the daughter of Hans Conrad Arbenz, miller of the Halden Mill in Andelfingen.
In more recent times, Jacobo Arbenz turned up as President of Guatamala in the early 1950’s, ousted in a coup organised by the CIA in 1954. Is the name a coincidence? No: he was the son of a Swiss immigrant, and also a descendant of Pantaleon and “our” Hans Jakob Arbenz from Andelfingen.
Like a child, my first response on waking to a world dusted (or disappearing) in fresh snow is a cry of joy and gratitude. It’s so beautiful, this white duvet world, and I can feast my eyes on it. And I don’t need to go out in it, except to my letterbox, a little trot around the house in normal weather, a cautious step-by-step adventure in snow. And yes, I did manage to slip on some ice underneath the deceptive fresh layer this morning (no harm done, and the letterbox was empty). But for the rest of the time, I can stay snugly in my nice warm nest and just watch the snowflakes drifting down through the window. Mesmerising.
Raili at Soul Gifts introduced me to the gorgeous old Scots expression “hurkle-durkle” on Saturday – a nice international flavour here, Raiili is Finnish living in Australia and I’m English/German living in Switzerland – and as I have been putting this hurkle-durkling into practice, I decided to google it. That brought me to this blog which I tried to re-blog here, but WordPress is being very recalcitrant these days and won’t allow me to do that. Or maybe it’s just my out-of-date browser. Anyway, I’m sorry about that – but do please go and have a browse in evesleep blog. You might find even more reasons for hurkle-durkling and snoodling. And a cwtch.
So here I am, tummy full of a particularly spicy chilli con carne (I found a jar of dried cayenne pods skulking at the back of the top spice shelf, probably been there 15 years, so on the assumption that they had probably lost much of their flavour and needed using up – because i never throw food away if I can help it – I deposited a good handful of them into my stew. They hadn’t lost any of their heat) – watching the snow fall. (Grammarians, please don’t criticise my punctuation in that last sentence – I know what I’m doing! It parses perfectly well.)
Yes, a full tummy and all my sinuses cleared out as well thanks to vintage cayenne pods. And enough left over to feed me for two more days. My repleteness is complete thanks to a glass of blanc de noir from a vineyard just across the Rhine from my home – a very nice dessert wine that I got on the off-chance and will definitely buy again. I don’t usually like sweet wines, but this is like honey.
And did I mention that at the end of November I inherited yet another rainbow of yarn? From a friend at church who thought I might be able to make use of it – thanks again, it’s keeping me well out of mischief. And that’s another post.
Just to update you, and put a smile on your face, here is my new little great-granddaughter.
Sorry for the hiatus: things have been happening in the past month, most of them positive, keeping me busy so that blogging went on the back burner.
However, today I have an important announcement to spread all over the Internet: congratulations to my Dear Middle Granddaughter and her husband, who have just taken delivery of their first child, a little girl, making me a great-grandmother all over again. Three cheers for the valiant stork battling the blizzards!
She made her début at 21h 01 m 12 sec on 12.1.21 – numerologists take note! – a palindromic date and incredibly fine timing! The new grandparents are all very thrilled, of course, and my Dear Eldest Granddaughter (DMG’s sister) is overjoyed to be an Auntie at last, while her four kids are excited to have a cousin.
What a pity we can’t have a big fat family party to celebrate! This little mademoiselle (yes, born in Geneva so French is appropriate) has not only two parents and four grandparents, but also six great-grandparents, three aunts, four uncles and three great-uncles – plus all the aunts and uncles by marriage – so a gathering of the clan is certainly called for.
Well, maybe we’ll be able to have some kind of virtual get-together, and once Mama and Papa have recovered from the ordeal of the birth, and have got into their new routine they might venture on a tour of eager family members so we can all ooh and aah from behind our masks and hand over the all the presents that have been accumulating in my Dear Daughter’s spare room (quite a treasure chest full).
Meanwhile, I thank the Lord for the safe delivery, raise a glass in Baby’s honour and look forward to seeing a photo of her sweet little face so we can all start the eternal debate of whom does she look like most.
Lord, thank you for leading me by quiet waters, for feeding me at Your table, and for inviting me to dwell in Your house forever.
Would You please give me opportunities this week to show true hospitality to others and to do it generously, joyfully and without grumbling.
Would You give me grace to embrace interruptions as gifts from You, and help me to make space in my schedule at my table, in my home and my heart for others.
This was one of the prayers in my Sabbath devotional this morning. Just after I had said “Amen”, I received a message on my phone from old friends saying:
“Would you like a “socially distancing” lunch brought to you today?”
Who knew that prayers were answered so rapidly? Especially in this time of isolating, quarantine and shielding! Not only did P and V arrive with a casserole, a loaf of bread, homemade brownies, a hunk of Roquefort cheese and a bottle of red wine, V also did the washing up afterwards! My hospitality consisted of setting the table on my patio, cutting the bread and making the coffee – done generously, joyfully and certainly without grumbling and I definitely embraced this interruption as a gift. It was a lovely surprise, and an opportunity to sit and talk, catch up, and enjoy our friendship. V and I share a birthday and I had also just finished crocheting a lacy scarf, which V graciously accepted as a belated birthday present. We decided this lunch was a belated birthday party. Thank you, Lord!
I see the last few weeks as a very generous and gracious gift from the One who provides. At the end of July my best friend – who lives about 20 km away – invited me to stay a week with her, which became 10 days, and gave us plenty of time to put the world to rights, watch our favourite TV series on rainy days and enjoy the privilege of swimming and floating around in her private pool on hot sticky days. I was especially grateful that she played chauffeur for me, so I didn’t have to take the train (masks are mandatory on public transport here, but I still don’t like the idea) and also took me to the supermarket so I was able to stock up on food and essentials, instead of having to haul my shopping from the village. Such friends are truly a huge blessing.
Prior to that, I was delighted to be able to enjoy some time with my Dear Eldest Granddaughter and her family. She has four children, aged 3 to 12, and they spent their summer holiday in their caravan on the Bad Ragaz campsite just down the road from my house. This is Heidiland so they were out and about most of the time, but we met up twice for extended meals and the children found their way from the campsite to Granny’s house, so that also gave me a chance to exercise a little hospitality, too!
“Now I’m 12 I’m allowed to drink coffee,” announced my great-grandson S on his arrival.
“Does that mean you would like a cup of coffee, then?”
“Yes please. With lots of milk.”
His five-year-old brother M had a “Granny tea”, and they sat very primly at my table, demonstrating their good manners, but alas, the coffee didn’t meet S’s standards (he prefers Nescafé) and M wasn’t impressed by the biscuits he was offered, so it wasn’t a total success. However, they are very forgiving and promised to give me a second chance some time.
I confess that I was a little sceptical this morning about asking for “opportunities this week to show true hospitality to others” when most people I know aren’t going out – but I was quickly taught a lesson, and now my fridge and freezer are well stocked, so I’m prepared! Who will be my next surprise guest, I wonder?
I’m sure he is very relieved to be out of his plywood case and able to look around him again, although in unfamiliar surroundings far from his native pool – which no longer exists anyway. There are some who think that I (and those of my family who have aided and abetted me in this undertaking) have gone more than slightly mad. There are many who wonder why on earth my father ever had Mr Betteridge stuff the biggest fish that didn’t get away in the first place, and why The Pike was mounted and displayed in my parents’ front room for nearly 70 years.
I understand my Dad, though. Apart from his wartime service in the RAF, the capture and landing of The Pike was his crowning triumph. He no longer had to stretch his arms out when boasting to his friends: the proof was there, his greatest trophy glaring at him for the rest of his life, with its “malevolent aged grin” (Ted Hughes)
Dad with his prize catch on 31 July 1950. Note the old Anderson air-raid shelter behind him, converted into our garden shed!
I told the tale here a few years ago What I didn’t realise then was that actually, my father hadn’t gone fishing on his motorbike but on a normal bicycle. That makes the story even more amazing! Imagine riding your pushbike home, uphill all the way, with a metre-long live (and lively) pike strapped to the crossbar – presumably with the head (and those teeth) peeping over the handlebars. (Pause while you let your mind boggle …)
After my mother died and we cleared my parental home, my daughter had a few pieces of furniture and objects of sentimental value packed up and shipped to our holiday home in Brittany.
The Pike was wrapped in blankets and stowed away in a specially made plywood crate, with the intention of bringing him to stay with me in Switzerland. Alas, this crate was too big and bulky to be transported in a normal sized car when there were passengers and dogs, as is usually the case when any of the family goes to Brittany: it is a holiday home, after all, and the family also needs luggage when they go on holiday. And so when all the stuff from England arrived in Brittany in October 2018, the plywood crate was parked in the garage and there it stayed – until this Easter Sunday, when my daughter and I loaded it into my granddaughter’s VW people-carrier and brought it triumphantly to Switzerland (and no hassle at the customs, either!).
My granddaughter needed her car back – she had been forced to manage without it for all the weeks we were “confined” in France – and I wasn’t going home for a while because of my “vulnerable” status, so the crate remained under the stairs in my daughter’s home for another 4 weeks. Then we borrowed the VW again, and last Thursday I was returned victoriously to my own home, together with my loot, where the screws were removed from the crate. My son-in-law had been forecasting dire consequences of all the bumping about that it had undergone, and would not have been at all surprised to find the glass case filled with piles of dust and fish scales. But as the blankets in which it was swaddled came off, The Pike emerged unscathed, just a bit dusty on top.
Now here it stands in all its glory, still looking as if would like to bite your arm off given half a chance, on what the Germans call my “Lowboard” (low sideboard) which is the perfect size and height for it. In fact, it’s rather strange to have it at this height: at my parents’ house it was always at adult eye-level. Now it’s at a child’s level. Over the years, it has terrified and fascinated small children, the nearest thing to a real monster that they had come close to. My great-grandchildren all saw it, way above their heads, at Great-Granny’s house, at a “safe” distance. How will they react now?
Their father is also an angler, as is his father, and the kids have all been on fishing excursions with their Papi and Opa, and have even managed to catch fish themselves – we had some delicious trout last week caught by my five-year-old great-grandson.
Trout caught by my 5-year-old great-grandson and his Daddy, cooked by my son-in-law – shared by son-in-law and me!
But The Pike, at close quarters, is something else.
It isn’t unusual to find antlers from deer, chamois and other cervidae mounted on plaques and hanging in Swiss homes. However, I don’t know anyone else with a stuffed fish apart from some old friends who had a huge stuffed swordfish on their wall in Palo Verde, California, and that was a very long time ago.
It’s nice to be back. I have had a great nine weeks of very congenial company, which was far better than being stuck in solitary confinement at home, but now I shall enjoy my solitude for a little while. My pampering continued right up to the moment of my return, as my daughter and son-in-law had been shopping for me and I have enough food and other necessities to last for a very long time. That includes tea, toilet paper and yarn.
And on the subject of yarn: my crocheting continues apace! After I finished my heirloom Corona blanket, which used up almost 33 balls of wool, I had 7 balls left and crocheted a sham pillow-case to match. Forty balls of wool at 75 m each gives a total of 3 kilometres but in fact, as I often noticed a mistake on a previous row or even several rows back, I had to unravel and re-work many times so I probably crocheted more like 5 km of wool in this marathon effort – and was very surprised when my daughter informed me that it had only taken me just over 2 weeks to do!
Of course, my fingers now can’t keep still. It’s a permanent affliction, like St Vitus Dance. If I’m not writing on the computer, I’m crocheting. My tally so far:
Cardigan, started during my visit to my Middle Granddaughter in February, using wool donated by my daughter (see Repair Your inner Rainbow) Not exactly according to the original pattern, which was shorter in the body and longer in the sleeves. I prefer mine.
Shawlette in white cotton, would have been bigger if I had had more yarn. This is a pretty pattern, starting with the bottom corner or point, so you just keep going till you run out of yarn.
Four market bags (I’d call them tote bags) for my daughter and each of my granddaughters, colours appropriate to each. A steep learning curve for me, as the pattern – by Drops – was basically just a chart of one seventh of the finished semicircle. I had never worked from a chart before, without any instructions such as to how many stitches I should have at the end of each row and what I should actually be doing with each stitch, so I felt I had been transported to Bletchley Park. Little by little, it became clearer so each subsequent bag was slightly different from the previous one, though nobody would know! By the time I got to the fourth bag, I had almost figured it out so I have bought some more cotton yarn to make another one, this time doing EXACTLY what I’m supposed to.
With the leftover yarn from these bags, I made two doll figures. VERY scary! They look like something from a Frankenstein story. Not to be given to children, I think! Not sure what’s going to become of those and I must protest that I am not deliberately setting out to scare children, whatever circumstantial evidence you may produce.
Frankenstein’s monster and his bride …
Another shawlette in a ginger wool/silk mixture donated by Middle Granddaughter in February with pretty autumn-leaves-coloured merino from my daughter for the edging, but only just worked up in the same pattern as the white one. I was the one who got worked up, actually. Following a tip from a dear friend who is a knitting whizz, I wound the wool around the cardboard middle of a toilet roll. The idea of this is that when you slip the cardboard roll out, you have a nice relaxed ball of wool with an end poking out of the middle. The advantage is that as you use up the yarn from the inside, the ball itself stays still and doesn’t race around all over the place. Yes. True.
The disadvantage is that sometimes you get what is called a “yarn barf” when the emerging string of yarn disgorges an attached lump of not-so-well-wound wool which, if you are lucky, may just mean you have a few yards more than you really need between your work and the ball, or if you are unlucky, you have to disentangle a cat’s cradle.
I’m not saying I was unlucky. I just didn’t wind my yarn as expertly as I should have done. My “barf” was more of a disembowelment. I am proud to say that I spent four hours patiently undoing the Gordian knot. And then finished my shawlette.
At the moment, I still have most of the wool my daughter gave me back in February, so this is an opportunity to mix and match and see what transpires. Not getting bored, anyway.
After almost two months of “house arrest” I was finally allowed out past the garden gate yesterday. Don’t get me wrong: in spite of the speed with which my hair grows, I’m certainly not complaining about the confinement. I am one of the relatively few people to have actually benefited from this lockdown, having the privilege of being with my nearest and dearest who have accustomed me to a lifestyle that I won’t be able to replicate once I get back within my own four walls. I really enjoy being Lady Muck, having all my meals cooked and served to me, not having to go shopping or do any housework more strenuous than making my own bed or drying dishes now and then, and having congenial company constantly at hand. Even my washing is being done for me.
I have greatly appreciated being able to see, interact with and actually hug (now officially condoned) my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in person and not just on a screen. Sorry if I sound smug, that isn’t my intention: I just want to say how grateful I am for my circumstances.
And yesterday, a lovely day in the merry month of May, we got into the car and drove out to the picturesque village on the Rhine where my youngest granddaughter has just moved into a “new” flat (new to her, that is). It’s always exciting to move house, even if it can be exhausting. An opportunity to de-clutter, and – in our family – to acquire bits and pieces from friends and other family members that fit in with the new décor. And my granddaughter is no exception, she shares the “musical furniture” genes too. Just the odd little piece here and there, bringing in happy associations and certainly adding to the general appeal.
It’s a very nice little flat, well laid out ergonomically and full of light, with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside, and being on the fourth floor without a lift it will give her plenty of opportunity for exercise! She has good taste and has made it both attractive and cosy. Full marks from me, anyway. I do hope she will be very happy and blessed there.
And as the weather was so clement, we went for a little walk down to the riverside, trying hard to keep the requisite distance from all the other Sunday strollers. It was quite exhilarating to be able to walk in a fairly straight line instead of in circles, and the path took us through a little woodland onto a wooden footbridge leading to the island of Werd. The water was crystal clear here, which is close to where the Rhine exits Lake Constance, and full of fish – I thought they were trout, but was put right by a local man who was feeding them with bits of bread. No, he said, they are Alet. I looked this up when I got home: my angler father would have recognised them as chub. Maybe I should have persevered with The Compleat Angler. A tiny coot kept attempting to catch some crumbs, but the fish were not only faster but also much bigger. Coot didn’t stand a chance.
Over on the island, a woman was standing next to a swans’ nest, fussing the swans. Our initial reaction was horror: you don’t go near a swans’ nest when the swans are sitting on it, they can be very aggressive. But our new friend explained that this lady is known as the Swan Mama – and we saw that indeed, the swans were very welcoming and enjoying her attention, keeping her from leaving them – and, he said, he himself was a “swan whisperer”. In fact, several years ago he had featured in a short documentary about his close relationship with the swans and we checked this out when we got home. Fascinating!
Our walk then took us around the village, which gives the impression of having grown up organically, with houses of different styles and periods scattered a bit higgledy-piggledy, not all in neat straight suburban rows, and the gardens were filled with spring flowers and blossom. A lovely way to spend my first morning out!
In the afternoon, my eldest granddaughter came by with her elder son (11) and younger daughter (3), another treat for us, enhanced by the fact that she brought a trio of trout caught that very morning by her husband and younger son (5). These really are trout, and my son-in-law knows how to turn them into a delicious lunch for us.
The lockdown isn’t over, social distancing is still de rigeur, but – I repeat – I am absolutely not complaining. In a day or two, I shall be taken home – with my own fish! – and left to my own devices. I shall miss this family bubble.
In the dim dusk before dawn Pours birdsong of blackbird, robin, thrush From the richness of the chestnut tree where Red torches bloom. A thousand years ago Along this dusty lane The same song thrilled the same pale air In the forebears of this tree. Here trudged and trotted farmers, Peasants, burghers, all To mill and smithy: Here still stands a mill Its clattering wheel long gone, and The smith lives only in the name Of this small lane. A thousand years in a twinkling of an eye In the song of the birds And the blooms of the chestnut tree.
German has a delightful word for hoarding: Hamstern. Think of those little golden rodents with their faces stuffed full of food – what could be more apt?
So – is your annual supply of toilet rolls neatly stashed away? Good. Now what else – apart from staple foodstuffs – can be considered essential items for hamstering during a pandemic?
In our case, it seems to be yarn, tea and books as we self-isolate in Brittany.
What are we doing here, you ask? The original plan was for my daughter, my middle granddaughter and me to spend ten days together in our family holiday home on the northwest Breton coast, an opportunity for three-generational bonding and to deal with several practical matters in need of attention. Dear Middle Granddaughter wasn’t well, so it’s just Dear Darling Daughter and me. And dog. Bonding.
The practical matters concerned the bank, the roof – which has needed repairs, and in France it’s advisable to be physically present at such times – and bringing back a couple of large, heavy items that don’t fit into a normal sized family car. Consequently, we borrowed Dear Eldest Granddaughter’s seven-seater VW in exchange for DDD’s Twingo – not really ideal for her with four children, but it was only supposed to be for a very limited time. Now this swap isn’t so convenient for her, as the schools are closing and she‘s supposed to be working from home … well, DEG is very resourceful and I have no doubt she’ll cope.
The Swiss Federal Council (government) has advised against grandparents taking care of children, as these are both vulnerable groups, so I was heartened to see an announcement on Facebook by some senior high school students offering their babysitting services to working parents. That could be a solution for DEG.
Meanwhile, we have been informed that it may be advisable for us to prolong our stay here – especially if it comes to a lockdown. Who wants to drive for ten hours and then be told at the border that you can’t re-enter your homeland? In the worst case, we could probably descend on DMG who lives just inside France near Geneva – that could be her punishment reward for not coming with us in the first place!
It’s certainly easier to quarantine ourselves here than it would have been in Switzerland, where we would inevitably have had a lot more social contact meaning greater risk of infection. Out of the thirteen houses in this little cul-de-sac, most are holiday homes. At the moment, only three are inhabited and the other two contain new neighbours whom we don’t know well enough to say more than “Bonjour, Madame!” when we see them. Just as well, perhaps.
It’s very difficult to overcome the habits of a lifetime and not offer a hand to shake or a cheek to kiss (two or three kisses in Switzerland, four here in Brittany). Elbow bumps and, among some of the youngsters, complicated foot tapping rituals, are proof that it feels wrong not to have some kind of physical contact on greeting friends and family. Does this augur the end of handshakes and bises in continental Europe? Another symbol of courtesy and civilisation disappearing? I hope not.
Our phone line isn’t the most reliable so our wifi also comes and goes. The cables aren’t buried underground here but strung in the air from posts, which makes them susceptible to stormy winds and salt corrosion – or so we are informed by the technician. At present, there’s also a broadband overload, especially as so many people must be working from home. All the same, we have succeeded in remaining in touch with folks back home, following the news and listening to podcasts as knitting needles and crochet hooks click to and fro. We get along well. There’s no lack of topics of conversation and we have hundreds of books at hand. And plenty of tea.
On the whole, we are much safer here in this tiny place, where all we hear when we open the windows is the roar of the sea down below and the song of thrush, blackbird and robin – oh, there are others that I can’t identify, as well as the ever-present seagulls but their screaming and raucous laughter is very secondary to the tweeting and trilling of the songbirds. We have pleasant (empty) beaches to stroll along and beautiful scenery to enjoy. The hedge is rosy with camellias, spring flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.
There could be much worse places in the world to be stuck: in my opinion, serendipity strikes again!
Leonz Egg (born in 1718) stayed in the Gäu area, married Maria Burkhard and had five children. He was naturalised as a citizen of Oberbuchsiten on 1 January 1746, and was able to buy property there. Like his father, he was a talented gunsmith and locksmith, and taught his sons the same trade. Apparently widowed, he remarried on 18 April 1768.
Was this the cause of friction between him and his grown-up sons? The elder son, Hans Jakob, moved quite early to Upper Alsace near the Swiss city of Basle, where the French had built a fortress with an arsenal near Hüningen, obviously an attractive opportunity for a gunsmith. He married the widow of a well known French gunsmith, which probably also helped his career. Soon, his younger brother Urs Christian, who had fallen out with his father, turned up on Hans Jakob’s doorstep, where he found a welcome and work.
However, “der Urs” was an ambitious young man. in 1770 he appeared in London “with 3 shillings and 6 pence in his pocket” and found work with the then famous British gunsmith Henry Nock. By 1772 he had his own business with rented premises in the Haymarket, Panton Street, under the name of Durs Egg. On 3 June 1776 he sold two “Ferguson Rifle Guns” to the British army for £31, the first of many regular orders for arms, and by 1778 he was ensconced at St James, Piccadilly, where he counted the Prince Regent among his customers.
Among the numerous Durs Egg weapons which are shown as masterpieces in the weapons collection in Windsor, is a pair of pistols on which the trademark “Gun Maker To His Royal Highness” appeared for the first time. The prince’s esteem for Durs Egg was revealed in a letter to his brother Prince Ferdinand of Hanover:
“… the rifle barrel gun was made by the best workman we have here; he is a Swiss German and his name is Egg. This gun is made after Ferguson rifle, it is almost the neatest piece of workmanship, ever was made.”
One of these weapons is also kept at Windsor Castle.
At the age of 35, Durs Egg married Ann Mary Salomon, daughter of a London merchant of German descent, and had seven children with her. On 29 August 1791 he became a British citizen. At this time a conflict with France began to emerge, which he could survive better as a British citizen than as a national of a country which soon had to come under French influence.
In 1792 his father Leonz Egg died in Oberbuchsiten, leaving Durs the relatively modest sum of 900 guilders (approx. £70 ). From 1799 Durs Egg was allowed to call himself “Gun Maker To His Majesty, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York”.
During the war years against Napoleon Bonaparte, Durs Egg produced a large number of rifles and pistols for the army and he also supplied the French royalists, who had established themselves on the Channel Islands, with a large series of carbines. The historian John F. Hayward mentions in his work “The Art of the Old Gunsmiths” that Durs Egg was particularly famous for his double-barrelled shotguns and duel pistols, which he produced in large numbers.
Having made his fortune, Durs Egg participated in various companies and buildings and himself bought a few properties. At this point, he made the acquaintance of a fellow Swiss, equally if not more ingenious than himself, who fired his imagination with a totally new project. The inventor Samuel John Pauly (born Johannes Samuel Pauli near Bern) had arrived in London from Paris. Please read his fascinating story on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Samuel_Pauly as I can’t do him justice here.
Although penniless, Pauli brought with him the blueprints for an airship that he had developed with support from Maréchal Ney. Durs Egg was enthusiastic about Pauli’s airship plans and became a partner investing large sums of money, from £5,000 (statement Pauli) to £10,000 (statement Egg). Together they entered a patent specification for the construction of the airship “Dolphin”. Pauli was to prepare the plans and supervise the construction. The length of the hull was approx. 29 m and its largest diameter approx. 8 m. The hull was made from the dried intestines of 70,000 oxen sewn together in several layers into the shape of a dolphin, with a second hydrogen-filled balloon inside and it had a moveable tailfin as a rudder. It was driven by a steam engine, since the combustion engine had yet to be invented. It took a long time to develop, but plans were announced for regular flights between London and Paris carrying 15 to 20 passengers at a time, and the public poured in to pay a guinea per person for a peep inside the hangar where this aircraft was being constructed.
Unfortunately for Durs Egg, the defeat of Napoleon and the ensuing peace meant that in 1815 his income fell from around £90,000 pa to about £2,300. He was also beginning to lose his sight at this time, and clearly getting cantankerous, involving lawsuits with family and business partners. He fell out with Pauli, dragged him to court, and work on the Dolphin was stopped. His airship was later sold to the American showman Phineas T. Barnum who exhibited it as an attraction with his famous midget General Tom Thumb in the gondola in the zoological garden of Surrey. It was an irony of fate that this was the only use of the costly but captivating project, wrote J. E. Hodgson in 1924 in “The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain”.
From 1822 Durs Egg was blind. He lived until 1831.
Only one of his sons, John Egg, born 1795, followed his father in the gunsmith profession but the economic situation forced him to give up until 1837 when, with the support of his family, he was able to reopen his own business. He chose an address three doors away from his father’s former shop (No. 4 Pall Mall, In the Opera Colonnade) and was successful, although as a gunsmith he wasn’t in the same class as his father. John Egg was probably the supplier of arms for the last known pistol duel in England in 1843.
He was married and had two sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Georg D. G., born in 1842 and died young in 1870, is mentioned in the annals of the gunsmiths of London, but no further information can be found. It seems that he left no children. His brother John chose another profession and remained unmarried. One hundred years after Durs had set foot in London his line died out.
However, Jean Joseph Egg, a son of Hans-Jakob Egg – the brother of Durs Egg who had emigrated to Hüningen in Alsace – became a gunsmith like his father and followed his uncle to London. Joseph Egg worked for Henry Tatham from 1801 and later co-founded the company Tatham & Egg. In 1814 he opened his own shop at Piccadilly Circus. In addition to his professional successes, Joseph Egg’s personal references are sparse, as he is not included in the traditional family chronicle written by a daughter of Durs Egg.
What is certain is that Joseph was probably the most creative of the entire gunsmith dynasty. His speciality at first was a new type of miniature pistols (pocket pistols) of the highest quality, whose precision is reminiscent of the work of watchmakers. They have one or two barrels and fittings made of engraved silver, in some cases even gold. This was followed by a whole series of inventions and patents. Joseph Egg’s weapons can be found in Windsor Castle, the Leningrad Hermitage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Augustus Egg, born 2 May 1816, the son of Joseph Egg, inherited the creativity and considerable wealth of his father and became an important artist of the Victorian age. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1835 and his works can be seen in numerous museums and galleries in England (Leicester; London: South Kensington, Tate, Birmingham, Preston; Sheffield). He was also an excellent actor in the amateur group around Charles Dickens, the most important writer of the time. With Charles Dickens he travelled around Italy in 1853. Because of his fragile health he spent the last years of his life in southern climates, in Italy, France and finally in Algeria where he died in 1863.
Claude Blair, the weapons historian and author of a newspaper article “The Egg family” described the significance of the Egg gunsmith dynasty as follows:
“Among the outstanding gunsmiths of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Great Britain, Durs and Joseph Egg were among the most important. Most English collections contain weapons from their hands that are much sought after and valued for their great reputation.”
Egg Jakob abt. 1690-1748, from Blüemlismatt, Solothurn, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1745, father of Leonz Egg Leonz 1718-1792, naturalised in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith, father of Hans Jakob and Urs Christian . Egg Hans Jakob 1745-1815, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in Hüningen (F), father of Jean Joseph. Egg Urs Christian (Durs) 1748-1831, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in London, father of John Egg John 1795-1870, born in London, gunsmith in London, son of Durs
Egg Jean Joseph 1775-1837, born in Hüningen (F), gunsmith in London, son of Hans Jakob. Egg Charles 1811 – 1867, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph Egg Henry 1815-1869, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph.
How do these Eggs tie in with my daughter’s in-laws, the millers in Schlatt and Ellikon? The Solothurn Eggs were Roman Catholics, registered as “peregrini”, non-residents, in the Gäu region of Solothurn in 1718. Where had they come from in those turbulent times? So far, I haven’t been able to identify a connection, but I’m pretty sure there is one if I can get back to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
I'm a retiree in his seventies. That may not be significant to many, since there is a bunch of us Baby Boomers around. However, in the year 2,000, when I received a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, I expected to be dead in three to five years.