Catch Me If You Can …

“You need something to look forward to,” declared my best friend at the beginning of January, assessing my black eye. “Come and spend some time with me in Florida.” I looked out at the snow-covered landscape and we sat down there and then and booked me a flight. The end of April seemed a long way off in the future.

Then, my eldest granddaughter proposed a trip to our holiday home on the north coast of Brittany, with her children and my daughter. Granddaughters Two and Three said they would also like to join us – sadly, Granddaughter Three couldn’t get time off work, but the rest of us were able to set off on 2 April, a jolly convoy of females plus my two great-grandsons. My son-in-law was able to follow a week later, so we have had a very full little house, but there was room for everyone, and no problems with the sleeping arrangements.

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IMG_0836.JPGI am still in awe that with four generations in such a small space, we had such a harmonious time; we have several alpha types in our midst (I won’t say bossy boots) yet all functioned perfectly as a team and if there were any disagreements,I wasn’t aware of them – apart from the two-year-old’s occasional short-lived tantrums, which are to be expected at that age. He was startled out of one of them when he flung himself on his face on the beach – nose and mouth filled with sand came as an unpleasant surprise!

The death of my mother in February and the subsequent chasing around organising so many things have left me in a kind of zombie state: I have been running on adrenaline for so long, and suddenly all the tiredness and exhaustion that I had been defying has crashed the barriers and overwhelmed me. I really needed that break.

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sunrise …

… sunsetIMG_0817

We returned from springtime in Brittany in full bloom, with two weeks of sunshine, sea and sand (incredibly, no rain!) to a cold wet Switzerland, and today it’s actually snowing. Well, admittedly, we are at an elevation of 500 m above sea level, but snow …

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And my friend reports from Florida that they’re having a heatwave …

I’m wondering if I simply shouldn’t have just stayed in Brittany!

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Elsie Williams, 9 May 1916 – 16 February 2017

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Taken just before her hundredth birthday, May 2016

When the expected happens unexpectedly, it still comes as a shock. Watching my mother dwindle, physically and mentally, over the last year has been painful, even distressing at times, and especially since she was obliged to give up her last shred of independence and move into a care home. Loss of mobility and no sense of purpose were hard to bear for a woman who spent her life looking after others. Her indomitable spirit kept her going, even as her body shrank and her mind sometimes became confused, and she always had a smile and a song on her lips. She was loved by the staff and residents in her new abode, but never really felt at home there and always longed to be back in her own four walls, in the house she had lived in since 1938. Alas, that wasn’t possible.

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1 February 2017

It was a great joy for her to be able to hold her newest great-great-grandchild in her arms, give her a cuddle and sing to her at the beginning of February, when her great-granddaughter visited with two of her brood. We knew that she was fading fast, and are so grateful for this meeting and the pleasure it gave her.

It was a comfort for us who were with her towards the end that the hospital Chaplain was able to come and pray with her and us and bless her. She lingered a little longer, but finally had no more strength to fight and she died just after 7.30 am on Thursday, 16 February 2017, painlessly and peacefully. She was an amazing lady, who touched many lives and inspired many people. Tributes are pouring in, and I will eventually get around to thanking everyone, but for the moment we are trying to get used to her absence, to the ache left by her departure from her earthly life, and the huge gap that this tiny woman has left in our lives.

Verses 22-23 in chapter 5 of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians list the fruits of the Spirit:
“…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”
All of these were manifest in the lady I was privileged and blessed to call my mother.

The quote that she wanted in her memorial is this:

“There is a land of the living
and a land of the dead
and the bridge is love,
the only survival,
the only meaning.“

 Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Long Dark Twilight Of The Soul Without A Signal

img_0688Alone in its dark little cupboard, with ne’er a bang nor a whimper, suddenly it died. I was checking out possible forefathers on ancestry.com at the time, so perhaps it gave up the ghost in sympathy. I don’t know, but I’m not aware of any obvious reason why all at once the message “YOU ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET” should flash up onto my screen. Whatever the cause, my router was no longer responsive.

I went through the usual routine of switching off and on again, disconnecting and reconnecting all the cables and finally giving it a thump, but all my CPR was in vain. I called the telephone helpline and a very polite gentleman called Trevor with a Caribbean accent took me through a catalogue of actions which all availed nought.

“I am very sorry ma’am,” he finally admitted, “but I can’t find an online solution. I’ll arrange for an engineer to call and see what the problem is. Goodbye, ma’am.” This all happened Tuesday evening, last week, around 9 pm. The engineer (have you noticed? They are no longer technicians, all engineers) will call sometime on Monday morning – or maybe Monday afternoon. My helpline guru warned me that if the problem was not a technical one, I would have to pay a large fee, but that is not an issue: I need wifi! It’s scary how desperately I need wifi. But – wait until MONDAY??? Six days???

“Very sorry ma’am. I wish you a very good evening, ma’am.”

Oh yes. If I hadn’t already noticed, this was evidence that I’m back in Bllghty! Just for a visit, as my mother’s condition has been deteriorating and I need to be on hand. Of course, I have spent most of the past year back home in Switzerland, and have quickly become accustomed once more to systems that work. If something goes wrong, an expert appears on my doorstep as soon as summoned, like a genie from a bottle, and fixes it. Swiss call-out charges are high, but prompt service is worth paying for.  I had forgotten that “EFF–I-Ci-EN-CY” is no longer a current term in the English language. Is “Blighty” derived from “Blight”?

Meanwhile, this huge jolt makes me very much aware of how much I need my broadband. No Internet. Not only no ancestry.com and no Google allowing me to look things up or catch up on current events, but also no e-mails, no social media, no Skype or FaceTime, no WhatsApp, no Siri: oh dear, how isolated I feel! How can I communicate with people?

Er, ahem! Look, there’s the phone! Oh yes! Good old-fashioned phone! I have both a landline and an iPhone, so surely I’m not so cut off from civilisation. Ah, but most of the people I want to talk to are abroad and if I use the phone for international calls, it’s going to be expensive. Can I claim compensation from the phone company for these wifi-less days, the inconvenience and the extra costs incurred due to having to use the landline?

Of course, the scariest thing about all this is the realisation that I have become so dependent on wifi. Not so many years ago, whenever I was in England, I was quite happy to take a five-minute walk once a week to the public library and use their PC for an hour. That was more than sufficient, and occasionally they would print stuff out for me, too. Now I’m running around like a headless chicken with my iPad, looking for a hot-spot so that I can download my e-mails, many of which will be junk. But I need to see them, need to know who is trying to reach me, and reply instantly. Don’t I?

What a long way we have come from my childhood and youth, when hardly anyone I knew had a phone, and we wrote letters, real letters that we took to the pillar box, to be delivered the same day if the addressee was local, or by the next day if further afield. We ordered our lives, made plans in advance, scheduled our activities, arranged meeting places and times, and it all seemed to work smoothly. The whole pace of life was more leisurely and predictable. Did our hearts beat more slowly? Were there really more hours in the day, more days in the week, more weeks in the year? Is the world really more chaotic nowadays? Or is that simply a common illusion as we grow older?

A voice-mail message from Trevor on Friday advised me that the problem was outside my home, and the ingenious were going to fix it. (Ingenious? Engineers in Caribbean pronunciation, I realised as I listened to the message for the third time. I like that, and will henceforth adopt that pronunciation.) So I didn’t have to hang around all day waiting for the ingenious to call. Or the genies to leave their bottle, come to that.

When I still had no signal by last Tuesday, a week after it disappeared, I called the helpline once more. A soft American voice this time, a man called Lee.  He put me through to the technical helpdesk – a competent-sounding lady who identified herself as Chanu, with a pretty Madame Butterfly accent and I felt very guilty at having constantly to ask her to repeat herself. She informed me that the external fault had been rectified and it was therefore, after all, my hub that was defective. She generously offered to send me a new one, free of charge. It would come by post and should be here by the end of the week.

Does the fact that I am on first-name terms with half the helpline staff make it any easier to bear? Am I supposed to think that, because we are now good pals, they are pulling out all the stops  to get me reconnected? I’m not that naïve.  One thing is in their favour, though: none of them appear to be European, so even with Brexit their jobs appear safe. And maybe they will eventually all learn to speak English intelligibly.

My eldest granddaughter arrived with two of her brood of four on Tuesday evening. I lamented the loss of the wifi to her, and she looked at my router. No power. She pressed the button on the side, and hey presto! Everything worked!

The new router arrived on Wednesday afternoon.

Of Tin-Openers, Potato-Peelers And Weird Exotic Finds

Kitchen drawers fascinate me. No, not the neat and tidy ones of OCD owners, but those that are used as repositories by absent-minded people who aren’t quite sure what this is, or where it really belongs, but the kitchen drawer is handy. Over the years and decades, if nobody interferes with its evolution, a wonderful gallimaufry accumulates in a relatively small space. Gadgets, gizmos and widgets reside untouched and unused as their owners forget their original purpose, or the appliance to which they belonged dies and is thrown away. You can find cutters for turning potatoes or carrots into intricate chains, bought at long-forgotten domestic exhibitions,  or seals for vacuum cleaners that were disposed of back in 1995. Matchboxes with unidentified contents – seeds or gooey black stuff – mingle with parts of something that broke and was going to be repaired.

One of my granddaughters was puzzled a few years ago that she couldn’t find a potato-peeler in Great-Granny’s kitchen. She was looking in the wrong drawer. That is another aspect of kitchen drawers that fascinates me: the logic by which instruments and utensils are allocated to specific places. It may seem blatantly obvious to you that a potato-peeler should go in with the kitchen knives, but to my mother it belonged with the tin-opener.

Also, gadgets develop and change in appearance as they evolve over the years. Once my granddaughter had located the seven and a half potato-peelers in among the tin-openers, there was only one that she recognised as the object of her search (the orange one in this photo).

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Evolution of the potato-peeler – note the blade tied onto a clothes-peg! Wartime make-do and mend!

She also failed to identify two of the tin-openers as such, and was totally perplexed by the perforated metal discs attached to metal spikes with a ring handle. I have fond memories of using these as a child, when I was allowed to help with small tasks in preparing meals. Do you know what they were for? Does anyone still use them for that purpose? (If you are also perplexed, read on – I will explain.)

In a friend’s kitchen drawer, I came across this strange implement:

orange-peelerShe demonstrated how practical it is, and claimed that even though hers must be well over thirty years old, you can still get them.  She produced the second – newer one – as proof. We googled the item, and she was right, you can still buy them online for under £10 each.

Still wondering about these gadgets? Well, this picture might help with my friend’s treasure.

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It has a sharp lip in the middle of the blade that cuts a long narrow slice out of the equator of an orange. You can then insert the looped metal end between the peel and the flesh, and finally scrape off any pith with the edge of the blade.

As for the perforated discs, in my childhood we used them to beat egg whites into a stiff snow. The advantage over a normal balloon whisk was that, in the days when eggs were rationed, you could put a single egg white into a glass beaker and beat it quite easily by pumping the handle up and down. I have a modern gadget for frothing milk for my latte macchiato that works on the same principle. And the reward for the hard work was the fun of holding the beaker of stiff egg-white upside down at the end, to prove that the job was done!

 

 

Living In A Winter Wonderland

“You live in a Christmas card place!”

It’s true, I do.  And recent weeks have been ideal for anyone wanting to take Christmas card photos here. Mine are only with my iphone, and not improved by an unsteady hand, but not having sent Christmas or New Year cards gives me an excuse to share them – rather belatedly – with you now. So here goes.

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This little robin accompanied us on a walk, hopping along the path in front of us for several minutes, and posed most professionally multiple times.

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My friend called this a “Santa Tree” – I think it looks as if it was caught and frozen in the middle of a dance on the shores of the Lake (Walensee).

 

 

 

 

 

Do mountains need a caption? I ought to know their names by now, but don’t – except that this is Heidiland and at the back of my house.

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IMG_0572.jpgThe Tamina river, which rises in hot springs, has cooled down considerably by the time it reaches the village. img_0574

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Walking home in the evening, I find these homes look very invitingimg_0561

Nothing to do with any of the above: I simply like these rings for tying up your horse outside the local vet’s house. img_0568

And finally – my black eye has gone! Hallelujah!img_0679

Angels Unawares

“Einen guten Rutsch” is the traditional German way of wishing someone a good start to the new year. Literally, “Rutsch” means a slide or a fall – “Slide well into the new year”. I didn’t intend to take it literally, but on venturing out following the first snowfall of the year on Tuesday, whoops! Down I went and banged my face on the pavement just about 100 metres from my home.

The first emotion in such cases is always embarrassment, and I was glad that there were no witnesses to my humiliation, but then I saw big fat drops of blood falling in the snow and realised it was coming from me. I clamped a paper hanky over my left eye, which was feeling a bit sore, struggled to my feet and set off for home.

Serendipity, says my friend, is my middle name. I had wobbled about 10 metres down the road when a car passed me, stopped, turned round and came back. Two angels disguised as a young couple returning from their skiing weekend popped out, examined my “wound” (I had no idea how bad the cut was, but there was a lot of blood on my face!) and insisted on taking me to the nearest doctor. Closed. All doctors in the village were still on vacation. The young lady phoned the emergency number and was told they should take me to hospital to make sure I wasn’t concussed and get my cut treated.

Our nearest hospital is a twenty-minute drive away on the Autobahn, but this kind pair had instantly assumed responsibility for the doddering elderly invalid they had rescued, and off we went. I have experience of Accident and Emergency in England, where it can take hours to be seen. Here, I seemed to be the only patient in the hospital!

My rescuers waited while I was examined and the cut over my eye cleaned up and glued (some kind of super-glue, better than a suture). No, I wasn’t concussed and could go. While I was being treated, the young man tried to wash some of the blood off my jacket – a small thing, but so considerate and kind. Then they brought me back home, right to my door, and went their way. The whole incident took just over an hour and a half.

I had the presence of mind to ask their names and where they lived, so that I could get back to them. Their house is only about another 100 metres further down the road where I had fallen, so today I took them a thank you gift in the form of a Three Kings Cake and some handmade chocolates from a local Confiserie. I do hope they will enjoy those and that they realise just how appreciative I am of their kindness.

The cut over my eye is insignificant, but the whole of my eye socket has now turned a wonderful shade of purple. As this is Carnival season, I am very tempted to cover the right eye in matching eye shadow and dress myself up in some kind of exotic costume. Or maybe not – it’s probably time I learnt to act my age, and I don’t think I have the stamina required for celebrating Carnival any more.

photo-on-05-01-17-at-12-49Happy New Year!

Bed-hopping Challenges

Nowadays, it isn’t the alarm clock but my bladder that rouses me from my dreams. Sometimes in the early hours, my brain still asleep, my body knows I need to get out of bed and autopilot myself to the bathroom. Normally these moments of somnambulism pose no problem, but in the last week I have slept in four different beds in various houses, most confusing for my inner sat-nav.

At my mother’s house and at my daughter’s, I need to get out of bed on the right-hand side (though depending on which room my daughter has put me in, there may be stairs to negotiate), in my own place and at my friend’s it’s the left-hand side. To complicate matters further, I arrived back from my mother’s (right), stayed one night at my daughter’s (right), spent one night in my own bed (left) followed by a night at my friend’s (left), back to my own home (left), two nights at my daughter’s (right) and back home again (left).

In the pitch-blackness of 3 am this morning, it took me a good five minutes to figure out where I was, which side of the bed to climb out of, and which direction to go in. As I attempted to walk through the wall where the doorway wasn’t, orientation returned and I was able to accomplish my mission with no further mishap.

There’s something to be said for the old custom of a chamber-pot under the bed!