A Blast from the Past

Fads and fashions come and go … and sometimes come again, though usually with a new twist to them.

This afternoon I delved into the bottom of a very deep cardboard box that has been standing unopened in my basement ever since I moved here 18 years ago. This contains all kinds of remnants and leftovers of fabric from various garments I made in the past, which I once thought I might use for making a patchwork quilt, plus a few plastic bags with sewing-related objects that might come in useful some day. On a sentimental note, there’s the pattern for my daughter’s wedding outfit, and a swatch of material from her dress and that of my granddaughter’s bridesmaid dress, as well as the lining from the Moses basket that held my first grandchild in her earliest weeks of life. 

But right at the bottom was another sacklike bag holding a great tangle of dark brown and cream string – a real Wirrwarr as we say in German, looking much like the Gordian knot. I fished it out, and saw it was macramé string, partially knotted. 

When did I do macramé? My mind flew back to the nineteen-seventies, and hanging plant-pot holders. Has this been lurking in the bottom of this box for all those years? How many times have I moved house in the past 50 years? This must have accompanied me through at least half a dozen moves, without ever seeing the light of day! Is it possible that it has just been waiting for the moment when macramé is back on trend? and now its time has come!  Obviously, moths have no desire for macramé string. It’s just as strong as the day I bought it. I carried it upstairs and started to untangle the mess, which fell apart quite easily. There were several cut lengths that I rolled up into balls, and two items – I can think of no other suitable term than Works in Progress – that I must have started on way back in the seventies. I certainly haven’t done any macramé since 1980.

My long term memory is usually pretty good (I could identify practically every scrap of fabric that was in the box and relate it to its garment) but I have absolutely no recollection of making these things, and no idea what purpose they were ever intended to serve. Obviously they were put away unfinished – but what were they going to be? 

I have just spent a couple of hours merrily unknotting and winding them into balls so I now have a little sack full of ready-to-use balls of macramé string, cut to length. Plus a few rings and a couple of wooden beads. 

Am I still able to do this craft? It isn’t difficult to make plant hangers, and I know that at one time I had mastered some quite complicated knots. I think I also had some books with patterns and instructions – but that was a very long time ago. Of course, nowadays you don’t need instruction books: there’s YouTube and probably plenty of tutorials and sites with patterns and suggestions for decorative items to make.  

Thank you to the Millennials who have revived macramé, and to whatever “Zeitgeist” inspired me to explore the large cardboard box in my basement! Let’s see what I can make with these materials – and a word of warning to family and friends: you might be getting some weird presents from me soon!

Hail To The Queen!

Today I’m on tenterhooks. This is THE day, by appointment, for the birth of my Great-Grandchild n° 6. All the rest of my descendants chose their birthday themselves, but the circumstances in this case are a little different so to avoid unnecessary risks it has been decided to perform a C-section. 

My granddaughter was due at the hospital at 6 am, and the procedure was to start at about 8. Last night I went to sleep with a prayer on my lips – yes, I know, C-sections are safe … but …. anyway, there’s no harm in praying! And I awoke with a prayer in my heart. It seemed like a long morning, although I have to say that our modern communication methods do make things a lot easier than in the “old days” when we had to rely on landline phones, telegrams and letters. 

Finally, just before lunch, the text message arrived announcing the arrival of our newest family member, a little girl named Elissa Ilona, weighing in at a healthy 4240 g (about 9lb 5oz by my reckoning but the mathematicians out there might be more precise) so not really so very little, and very cuddly.

What’s in a name? An important aspect of name-giving in our multi-culti family is the pronounceability of the name in various languages, so I award full marks for that here. We also have to be careful not to choose names that sound harsh, awkward or offensive in any way. I do like the sound of these, I have to admit. I also know that her mama and papa have been paying a lot of attention to the meaning of names as they narrowed down their selection, so I looked these up.

Elissa as it turns out is another name for Dido, Queen of Carthage, who came to a sticky end, but it can also be a variation on Elisabeth which means “oath of God” – probably preferable. Is there also an echo of my mother’s name, which was Elsie? 

I once had a student in Germany called Ilona (a very nice girl, I hasten to say) but it isn’t a name I’ve heard very often in the intervening 50-odd years. Once again, the original Ilona turns out to be a queen, this time (according to Wikipedia) Queen of the Dragon Wolves or Queen of the Fairies, which sounds a little less alarming! Popular in Hungarian and Finnish, it’s comforting to read that in Finland it’s associated with the word for joy and denotes one who brings joy. I quote: “tumbling forth with entrancing glee”. I’m sure that’s the case here, she’s already the cause of a lot of rejoicing among her many relatives. Ilona could also be a variation on Helena, meaning “light”. So off to a beaming start!

Welcome to the Family, Elissa Ilona – I’m off to buy a bottle of something appropriate to wet the baby’s head, as we used to say. And on the hunt for a crown fit for a baby queen. Looking forward to making your acquaintance very soon!

Sleeping Beauty Awakes … in a different tongue!

Just over 3 years ago, I wrote here https://catterel.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/a-night-that-began-700-years-ago/ about the discovery of a manuscript that had lain in a box gathering dust for 70 years in an attic in Cape Cod. This was an unpublished novel written in Hungarian by Janos Szekely, father of my friend Kathie, and translated into English by a fellow Hungarian called Frank Gaynor. After reading the manuscript Kathie immediately contacted the Swiss publisher of her father’s other novels, Diogenes Verlag, to see if they were interested in this work. Yes, indeed – like Kathie and myself, the editors were delighted and a contract followed very quickly. 

However, Frank Gaynor’s English is rather dated and stilted in places, and Diogenes was unable to find an English language publisher prepared to accept the manuscript as it is. Despite every effort, no trace of the original Hungarian manuscript has come to light, and the pale carbon copies on flimsy yellowed paper remain all that’s available. 

Was this the end of the story? The people at Diogenes refused to give up. Finally, they had the good fortune to be able to engage a well-known German translator, Ulrich Blumenbach, to produce an excellent version in German, and since yesterday, 26 April 2023, the novel is on sale as “Eine Nacht, die vor 700 Jahre begann” in all German language bookstores as well as Amazon.   https://www.diogenes.ch/leser/titel/janos-szekely/eine-nacht-die-vor-700-jahren-begann-9783257072365.html

The questions I raised 3 years ago have still not been answered, although the Diogenes people have also tried to solve the mystery. We can only speculate:

  • Where and when did Janos Szekely write this novel? 
    Probably during his exile in Mexico in the early 1950’s.
  • What happened to the original Hungarian manuscript? Are there any copies anywhere?
  • Who was Frank Gaynor, and does he have any heirs? 
    Nothing new has come to light, except that he was born in Budapest in 1902 and died in New York in 1961. No legal heirs have been traced.
  • Why did he – and not a native English speaker – translate this book? 
  • How did the translation find its way into a Cape Cod attic? 
    Probably John Szekely’s widow gave it to her friend there in the hope that he might be able to find a publisher. He didn’t, and just put it away.
  • Why and how was Paul Jarrico involved?
  • Was it ever offered to a publisher in the USA or UK?

What is the next step? Well, hopefully this will be a bestseller in German and then maybe it can be translated back into a more modern English (and a few other languages too) and will fly off the shelves! And who knows – perhaps the original Hungarian manuscript will also turn up.

All I can say here is that Ulrich Blumenbach has done a magnificent job with putting this story into German, and the book – a page-turner in any language – truly deserves to become a bestseller. 

Back in Brittany

It’s been a long time. Three years, to be exact, almost to the day. 

In March 2020, my daughter and I came to our holiday home in Brittany for ten days and wham! Lockdown! So we stayed on – for five weeks, returning finally at the end of April (Easter). I wrote about it at the time, so if you are interested, look back at my old posts  from March & April 2020.

So this is all a little bit déjà vu. Much is the same, but there are a few changes both in the house – which has been used by the family without me in the meantime – as well as in the village and surrounding area. Sad to have lost a number of elderly neighbours, but fun to find new things. I have been coming here frequently since buying the house in December 1991, and my photographic record attests to the evolution wrought by the years. One thing that doesn’t change is the wonderful view with magnificent sunsets  mirrored in the sea. 

Last time I was here, I crocheted an heirloom bedspread, which now adorns my bed. 

An upside to my daughter having a dog is the necessity of taking regular walks, and there are plenty of opportunities for those here, quite apart from trotting along the series of fine sandy beaches just below our house. We also have woodland walks, which can be a little muddy underfoot at this time of year, and my daughter has introduced me to two of these already that I didn’t know about. In fact, as regards being muddy underfoot, the second actually traverses a marsh so is more than a bit muddy. The local authorities have solved that problem in the past few years by constructing a meandering boardwalk that also enables people in wheelchairs or parents with prams and baby buggies to enjoy the little wilderness. 

And this is what happens if you take a light coloured furbaby where there is no boardwalk:

Spring is working its magic here as elsewhere. Violets, primroses, ragged robin, daffodils, iris, pussy willow, crab apple and other blossoming trees, plus a myriad of wild flowers that are familiar to me by sight but whose name I don’t know.    

Traditional houses in Brittany are whitewashed or built of granite with a slate or red tile roof, and there are still a good number of those around, often tastefully restored. We also have a mini-château on the edge of the village, which is gradually coming back to life after a sleeping beauty existence. 

Maybe it isn’t clear from these photos, but we are having traditional Breton weather too: a very strong wind has ensured that we have had sunny intervals between clouds and showers, although the temperature could be a little higher (if I am allowed a small request to the weather clerk, that would be it). No complaints from us, anyway. This is still a little corner of Paradise.

What Shall We Do With Granny?

What should we older folks do when we get close to our use-by date?

One of the bloggers I have been following for a very long time is Aunty Uta, who moved from Germany to Australia with her husband and young family in the late 1950’s (I think – correct me if I’m wrong, dear Uta!). See https://auntyuta.com.

Now that her children are grown and she is a widow in her late eighties with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she’s wondering about preparing to manage in the final years of her life. Should she hand over her house to her daughter and granddaughter, and restrict herself to just one room? A quandary that has set me thinking too.

My mother was running her own household, doing all her own shopping, cooking and cleaning, running upstairs and downstairs, managing her finances and everything else in daily life, until the age of 95. I went to help her for the last 5 years of her life, and as we had a very good relationship it worked out pretty well. It was tacitly recognised that she was still the boss, and that it was her house where she had the say-so. I was still her daughter, whatever arguments may have arisen! (See my blog posts from 2011 to 2017.)

That kind of relationship isn’t always possible, when roles are reversed and the “children” want to take care of their parents completely. They mean well but it’s very easy to start bossing the old ‘uns about, for their own good of course, and to prevent them running into any risks or hazards, but it’s an attitude that is very quickly resented by the elderly. “I’m not a little child!” is a frequently heard protest, and we are quick to perceive disrespect whether intended or not.

As for me, I started thinking vaguely about my old age (which seemed a long way off – it still does!) when I retired in my early sixties. I downsized from a very large house to a small rented 3-bedroomed duplex, taking far too much stuff with me, especially armchairs and sofas. After 18 months I downsized again and bought a much smaller 1-bedroomed ground-floor apartment leaving most of my seating behind for the following tenant. With hindsight, I acknowledge the value of making this adjustment in two stages. It would have been extremely difficult for me to go straight from my big house to my small apartment and I would have taken an awful lot of surplus furniture and belongings along, entailing much unnecessary work and expense in the removal.

I have now been in this apartment for 18 years, and am very happy here. It’s just the right size for me, in a beautiful location within easy reach of shops, the railway station and our local magnificent arboretum park with golf course (although I don’t play golf). I have good friends living not too far away, and now that the lockdown is over I am beginning to re-emerge from my shell, picking up on my social life again.

I purposely considered the advantages of a ground-floor flat should I lose my mobility. I’m grateful that, for the moment at least, I am still reasonably mobile and able to get out and about under my own steam. Having made a conscious effort over the past few months to improve my fitness, I can now walk without difficulty to wherever I need to go within two or three kilometres. I hope to continue in this way of life for a while yet.

However, I have to face facts and accept that there will come a time when I can’t manage all by myself and it can’t be too far away. The downside of living where I do is that I am a long way from my family – by Swiss standards at least; in Australia, we’d be considered as living next door to one another! But it’s about 150 km (because you have to go around mountains and lakes) door to door, and that isn’t always convenient.  

Traditionally in Switzerland, the old folks would hand over the farmhouse to their son or daughter and family, and move into a much smaller building across the yard called the “Stöckli”. For all I know, this may still be happening in remote rural communities. It has the advantage that each generation has its own private premises, but is close enough to interact with the rest and help wherever help is needed, whether with babysitting or geriatric care. But my children don’t live in a farmhouse with a Stöckli, so that’s not an option for us.  

Over the course of my quite long life, I have frequently been amazed by the way that what appear to be problems or dilemmas are suddenly solved by a deus ex machina.  Some think it’s coincidence or serendipity, but to my mind it’s deliberate divine providence. Yes, Someone up there is really looking out for me, and I am very grateful. 

Recently, through a series of coincidences, my Dear Daughter became aware of an apartment for sale in a block directly opposite her house. It had belonged to an old lady of 98, so was definitely suitable for the needs of an elderly person – and there’s also a lift in the building right next to the apartment.  On inquiry, DD found it would be ideal for my old age but the asking price was too high. She discussed this with her husband and me, and they put in what they considered to be a fair offer but well below what the owners wanted. 

After a while, they were informed that a much higher offer had been made; did they want to raise theirs? No, they didn’t. And we resigned ourselves to the situation. Then suddenly the agent rang to say that our offer had been accepted after all: the owners had sympathy with the idea that this was to be Granny’s home. Not surprising really, considering that it had been their Granny’s home, but sentimentality rarely wins over profit! A blessing for us, though, now.

What is particularly positive about all this is that there is no rush for me to move. Some refurbishing will have to be done, which will take a little time, and then either the flat can be let on a short lease or as an air bnb, or my daughter and son-in-law can use it as an extension of their own home, eg, as accommodation for visiting family members. When the time comes for me to move in, my present apartment can also be let. Win-win all round!

Well, as I said earlier, time is on our side right now and I can continue to rekindle my social life in my present surroundings and enjoy the company of my dear old friends until the moment of truth arrives. It looks and sounds too good to be true, and no doubt we’ll hit some kind of obstacle somewhere down the line, but it is so reassuring to know that there is, after all, a Stöckli waiting for me.

Where did January go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone at Christmas?

Let others hurry, scurry, worry, 

Rushing, pushing, in a flurry,

Christmas is a panic season

When normal folk lose all their reason.

When everyone is all stressed out,

Totally zonked from dashing about

Choosing presents and wrapping yards

Of paper and ribbon, and writing cards,

Making puddings, pies and cakes,

Decking with holly, till everything aches

From putting up baubles on Christmas trees

And crawling about on hands and knees

To find the one that dropped back there 

And rolled behind the big armchair – 

Cooking turkeys with all the trimmings

Eating food that’s far from slimming,

Then getting gifts they really hate

And feeling sick ‘cause they over-ate 

And drank too much, while the kids go wild

With toys unsuitable for a child –


YOU can curl up in your comfy bed

And pull the duvet over your head,

Do whatever you want to do –

Enjoy the peace, and don’t feel blue:

Because we’ll all be envying YOU.

Saint Nicholas is coming to town.

Reblogged from Sundry Times Too

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


November, November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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