A silver celebration

Having just had to replace our heating system, we were reminded that it is 25 years since our little washhouse was gutted. The middle floor having been converted to 3-room accomodation around 1930/31 (as far as we can make out but it may have been 1914/18), for a number of years in the early 1980s, the house was used as a warehouse for a local company, even for company barbecues. We were delighted when a chap turned up at the door one day to give us a large, mounted black/white photograph of the house as it was when he was a boy and visited his grandmother here in the 50s/60s, swimming in the millstream that used to run past just outside the front door! It even turned out that a woman I know had cared for the old lady who had lived here in her final years at the old-people’s home before she died in her 90s. 71_19_Schmidgasse_31.sizedPhoto taken probably in the late 1960s71_13_ehem_M_hle_und_Schmidgasse_31.sized

Again, probably 1960s, before the field in the foreground became flats for industrial workers, and with the mill to the rear left of the house; the ironworks in the background built in 1908 would still have been in working order. The walnut tree, left in photo, is still standing, despite new flats having been built there – around it :) 

However, in about 1988, after the obsolete ironworks next door had been turned into loft apartments, a café/restaurant, gallery, gig venue and a series of small business premises, it was the turn of the old mill to be gutted and converted into three large flats and with a small extension to the north. At the same time, an architect fell for the little washhouse and took it on as a personal renovaton project – the whole house was gutted, leaving only the outer walls and inner beam construction and the whole was reconfigured into a small family home intended for 2-4 people. The attic floor became one large room, an additional window to the south made the greater portion of the middle floor into a sun-filled living/dining/kitchen area with a small bedroom and bathroom and the ground floor became a second bedroom/guest room/office, shower/laundry room, a small utility room and a cellar with a natural floor – the cellar couldn’t be underground due to the proximity to the stream – as well as a generous entrance hallway. While the façade was listed and no alterations were allowed (apparently the half-timbered construction, and especially the gable ends, are particularly fine examples of local 18th century style), inside the upper walls were cement-lined and the interior brought up to late 20th century standard, using solid oak throughout. The ground floor walls are stone, a couple of feet thick.

The little washhouse became a very fine home! IMG_0704Photo taken 2012

Built in 1770, 25 years is not very much in the life of this house, but how wonderful that it was given a new lease of life and perhaps it will stand for another 200 years, at least…

The Six Items Challenge for Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label is an organisation that has a campaign for clothes to be produced in a “cleaner” manner – not just ecologically sounder, but mainly demanding better conditions for workers in sweatshops around the world, who often work in atrocious conditions yet don’t even earn enough to live a dignified life. It’s a tragic situation and we, as consumers, are easily led to buy buy buy lots of cheap clothes with only the slightest regard to how they were produced. I am just as guilty of this as the next person.

Writing about minimalism isn’t something I’ve done before, though I’ve been interested in “simple” for a long long time, probably even since I was a child, if I’d only known what to call it. Like many others, I got caught up in the expanding consumer wave that was the 80s and 90s and life with a family only fuels that. Once I began to read more about consumerism, simplification and minimalism, it still took me a long time to really get on board, and it’s a work in progress, always.

Capsule wardrobes have always fascinated me, the concept of making x outfits from y number of garments captured my imagination young – for years I kept a magazine tear-out from 1975 of a “sample wardrobe” that involved a white trouser suit and a stripy turquoise skirt and lots of red and yellow and some enormous platform sandals (I was only 10 at the time and probably aspired to the platforms, which I would never ever have been allowed to wear!!). Anyway, it was the concept that appealed and magazines do like to bring this up at regular intervals! 1981 Working Wardrobe - back1981… 

In the past few years, interest in “challenges” of all kinds has spread across the internet, and of course, I was intrigued. Courtney Carver’s “Project 333″ suggests wearing 33 wardrobe items (including shoes and jewellery…!) for 3 months and is more of an exercise in realising that we really don’t need as many clothes as we have – especially Americans with their big walk-in closets, who often have hundreds of items of clothing to fill and overfill the space. A statistic: “In 1991, the average American bought 34 items of clothing each year. By 2007, they were buying 67 items every year.” (quoted from “Stuffocation” by James Wallman, 2013 – oh, and the average British woman now buys 58 items of clothing each year…!) That often isn’t quite such a problem for us in Europe, where we’re used to smaller wardrobes and a tradition of “using up”, but these things tend to creep over the Atlantic (see above!), and a good declutter is probably a wise idea in most armoires these days – we have double the amount of clothing in our wardrobes as in 1980, when that capsule wardrobe above was printed!

The Six Items or Less challenge was set up in New York a few years ago and again, was an exercise to see how present-day Westerners would cope with an extremely limited wardrobe of only 6 items of clothing (outerwear, sportswear, shoes and undies/nightwear not included!) for a month. As you may imagine, it was considered pretty extreme but with the example of mini-wardrobes using a lot of black, the idea became quite popular and an awareness arose that most other people didn’t even notice when the participants wore the same clothes over and over – washed regularly, of course. Some braver women even managed to put together bright and quirky wardrobes of 6 items and to combine them in unusual ways, quite a challenge, I have to say!

Six Items or Less

The most extreme of these wardrobe challenges involves a single dress, and therefore is a women’s challenge (well, I imagine so for the most part, anyway!). The Uniform Project involved a single dress worn 365 different ways and with lots of outrageous accessories, but was an interesting idea. They even designed a dress especially for it, so that it could be worn backwards or forwards or as a jacket or as a tunic… endless possibilities. That was also a charity challenge to raise awareness of conditions in the garment-making industry, particularly in India, and sustainability in fashion. I know of two other women who took up this challenge for a whole year who documented their experience on the internet, one really only wore the above-mentioned dress for a year, with a few warm accessories for the colder months, while the other made herself a brown dress of her own design and wore that with other existing things in her wardrobe. I have to say, I’m not sure I’d manage a challenge quite as extreme as this! I take my hat off to them. Uniform project

However, more recently, the 6 Items challenge was taken up by some girls in the UK who wanted to support Labour Behind the Label and this tipped me over the edge, because I could finally walk the walk as well as talking the talk and do something tangible for a cause at the same time, so I joined in. For 40 days (that’s 6 weeks), I wore the same 6 garments repeatedly. I tried to make good choices and occasionally had to add a little something, mainly for warmth as we transitioned from a mildish winter to a warmish spring (and the heating broke down and is being replaced as I type…!), but to my own surprise, I had no difficulty at all with this challenge, nor did I get bored with my choices, which is proved by the fact that I am wearing the same grey jeans today, the first “day after” the challenge! While I don’t go out to work, I do leave the house and several occasions (birthdays, meals out) arose which needed to be covered – including a funeral. On the other hand, there are some days where I am home all day or have a gym class, and if necessary, I could just stick with my sportsgear for the rest of the day, when I tend to carry on doing energetic stuff anyway and don’t shower till later!

For the curious, these are the garments I chose:

- grey jeans (mail order)

- a tunic dress in black/greys (Gudrun Sjöden eco label)

- a cream lace top (La Redoute)

- a jade green peasant-style T-shirt (local supermarket eco range)

- a cream peasant-style T-shirt with 3/4 sleeves and embroidery (supermarket eco range)

- a drapey grey cardigan (Asda)

When it was cold, I once wore a plain black jersey T-shirt dress under the tunic dress and on one occasion, I wore that alone with the cardigan, as everything else was in the wash and I had to leave the house, but otherwise, I managed fine with a petticoat and a thermal undershirt, various tights/leggings,  a few pairs of boots/shoes (fewer than I thought I would, as it turns out!) and a couple of scarves and pieces of jewellery. I have to say, I rather surprised myself! Oh, and many of the garments sport an “eco” label of some kind, none was expensive (the cardigan is a £12 Asda/George purchase a couple of years ago, probably not an “eco” item) and all held up very well to being washed frequently – occasionally rinsed out by hand if I didn’t have a load of laundry to do. IMG_0186

I was pleased that I managed to keep away from black – the tunic dress is patterned on a black background but is quite thin cotton so doesn’t look funereal (although I did wear it to a funeral under a black mac…). I wore blue with the cream T-shirt and green with the jade T-shirt or other colours with the lace top, so didn’t feel too restricted at all. When it was cooler, I could layer the T-shirts and cardigan and when the sun came out and we had some very warm days, the tunic dress was very light and the tops varied in sleeve length, and so suited the weather. I didn’t go for any experiments like wearing my cardigan upside down or pinning it up or belting it, but for a younger thinner person, those would certainly be options to try!! I wasn’t trying to look different every day, but I think I rarely wore the exact combination of clothes/accessories/shoes twice, if ever.

And of course, nobody noticed. I didn’t really expect them to, having read others’ experiences. I was adequately dressed for all occasions and though I was never bored with what I had in the way of wardrobe options, I found the simplicity of not having to think about what to wear, which of a dozen T-shirt plus bottoms combination to choose, to be very refreshing. Probably, I wouldn’t choose to live like this all the time, but I do know that despite lots of culling, a few more things from my wardrobe will be going to charity, hopefully helping someone else whilst making my own life simpler by having less choice!








For all that seasons change subtly and sometimes fool us, there comes a day when you know that the new one has well and truly arrived for all to see, hear and breathe. A fresh, bright spring day when all the blossom is out and the skies are clear is a definite declaration, no matter the breezes or when follow-up days are grey and dull again – it’s just obvious. That happened here this week, just in time for April, which presumably will bring the usual showers and as the snow never amounted to more than an inch overnight this winter (my only photographs are dark night snow as it had always melted by the following day…) we certainly won’t be having any more of that, thankyou. Frosts, though, are possible right through to mid-May, when the ice-saints (usually just Servatius, Bonifatius and Sophie but apparently there are 5, with Mamertus and Pankratius preceding them!) culminate in the “Kalte Sophie” (cold Sophie) and the 16th May sees a frenzy of people putting all their tender plants, in particular geraniums, out…

Anyway, I think it’s now sprung!

IMG_0198IMG_0200All those hellebores are waiting to go in – inspired by my grandmother-in-law’s garden… IMG_2778IMG_0202IMG_0209IMG_0218IMG_0193IMG_0207

I found it very interesting to see how my 18 year old sees what I have shown above…!
Caitline house

Who’s lucky now?

Switzerland is a small country, which most tourists probably understand pretty quickly – it takes just over 3 hours to drive from the southwest corner to the northeast corner and our largest city, Zurich, has a population of 400,000, not very big in international comparison! I just heard on the radio that half of the Swiss population of 8 milllion now lives in the “agglomeration”, i.e. in or around the biggest cities (Zurich, Berne, Basle, Geneva). I grew up in Geneva when it had a population of about 130,000 – these days it’s closer to 200,000 – so in most ways I was an urban child. Switzerland is not in the EU and in more ways than this, it’s a bit of an island, including socially and culturally – often to our advantage, I find.

Recently, I read this article about the overprotected child of today and was shocked (http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/) to read the manner in which many children grow up these days in English-speaking countries, and sadly, that trend is spreading everywhere here in Europe, too. It got me thinking about how I grew up in the 1970s.IMG_2771I was about 5, I think – and it wasn’t my tricycle! ;o The scraped knees began soon after…

When we lived in England (I was aged 3-8), it was completely normal to leave the house and go and ring the doorbell of someone else’s house in the same street or neighbourhood to see if friends were “in” and then play in each other’s gardens or on the quieter residential streets, changing locations as the mood took us, rarely if ever asking permission. We had a large willow tree in our garden which was great for playing houses, and the 1972 Olympics had all us girls wanting to be gymnasts like Olga Korbutt and putting on our own displays, including balancing precariously on garden walls and jumping off and over things (and other kids!). My friend and I shared a pair of roller skates, each taking one and zooming artistically and arabesquely around on generous street corners – they had the smoothest tarmac! Even at the age of 5 all the children on the street congregated in mixed groups and I learned to ride a bike that belonged to one of the other children by balancing on the curb, it certainly wasn’t a parent running along behind me – I think I probably had permanently scraped knees between the ages of 5 and 8, but then so did most other children. We fell off swings and roundabouts and climbing frames, bumped heads and other extremities and it wasn’t uncommon for one or more children in a class to have an arm or leg in a cast – I felt hard done by for never having had one. I wasn’t allowed to ride a bike on proper roads but we still made our way to a tiny, old-fashioned hidden sweet shop that was out of bounds, with big jars of different sweets to choose from, with a penny or two scrounged (or even stolen :o?) here or there and then scarpered back to homeground with bulging cheeks and a guilty conscience! From the age of about 6 1/2 I was supposed to accompany another mother who walked her children to school but I didn’t like the little boy (Ian Swain, poor lad!) so I went off on my own and nobody seemed to notice… I came home on my own and with friends whose homes were nearby and entertained myself perfectly well either at home or outdoors without supervision. My best friend next door was 3 years older than I was and probably taught me a few things she shouldn’t have, but we were pretty mixed ages all along the street and kept out from under our mothers’ feet and I think that’s the way things were for a very long time in England. I could hardly believe it when I heard that people called the police these days if children play on the streets because they are so afraid of “gangs”!!IMG_2772There were concrete slabs supporting this swing, and the higher I got the more it shook!

Moving abroad was a big change – at first we lived in town but aged 8, I still had the freedom to take myself off to the nearby park (across busy roads) and the paddling pool or to the little “place” under the chestnut trees and meet other children collecting conkers – on one occasion communicating for ages in sign language with another little girl (I spoke no French) before we both realised we spoke English and went to the same school!! After a year, we moved to a village outside town and so from the age of not quite 10 I took the bus home from school every day, in fact, a tram and a bus, so involving changing and a short walk from the tram stop to the bus stop in the middle of a bustling, international city. Out in the countryside I had a dog and would be out for hours, just wandering through the village for sweets, stopping off at the cemetery to look at children’s graves (I think I was a bit strange!), jumping off more walls and swings and generally doing what I liked. My parents were anything but uncaring, but had both had very free childhoods and though my dad wasn’t keen to let me loose on a bike, he didn’t seem to mind me roaming at will with the dog for company. Also around this time, I started taking myself to the ice rink in town (by bus) on Saturday mornings, because we international kids had no school, while the “Swissies” did, so we had the rink to ourselves and were quite a clique that met up regularly there. Come summer, I took myself off to various local outdoor pools and when the weather got too cold, indoor swimming halls – neither of my parents could swim, so I went alone or with friends and was soon familiar with all the local bus routes. Nobody ever batted an eyelid – it was perfectly normal behaviour. GE 1972 Place Bel AirThis was “Place Bel Air” in the 70s, which I had to cross when switching from tram to bus… 

Some girls I knew went to ballet or had ice-skating lessons or music or riding lessons or whatever extra-curricular activities they fancied, but on the whole, I think our time was a lot less organised than is now usual. Even at home, I was given the opportunity to be bored, spend hours reading or drawing or “making things” and I don’t remember lumbering my parents with endless trophies of what I’d been doing, though we still have a few souvenirs. I was expected to do my best at school and that was about all. We did things as a family at weekends but there was no expectation that we would always be occupied in each other’s company or that I should always be supervised by a parent or babysitter. I honestly can’t remember being explicitly “forbidden” to do anything, and I don’t think I was a particularly sensible child, if anything, I was probably a bit of a scaredy-cat! Natural_History_Museum_of_GenevaI took myself off here a lot, too, the Natural History Museum – about a 10 minute walk through town from where we lived in Champel, Geneva, when I was 8/9!

When it came to my own children, it didn’t occur to me to behave any differently as a mother. By this time, I had moved to the other end of the country to a very rural area where my husband had grown up on the outskirts of a village that became popular as a small suburb of a local town through the 70s. He had spent a lot of time outdoors in much the same way as I had before we moved to Switzerland, and as a scout in the woods, and as there is little entertainment for teens in the country, he’d quickly been involved in a group of teens who made the entertainment themselves, finding premises to hold a “disco” where they got all their records together and assigned “DJs”, holding movie nights or having a barbecue in the woods where each person brought a contribution, from sausages to matches to music, groups of kids aged from about 10-18. Everyone grew up very independently and most of them were working full time at 3-year apprenticeships (with day-release school courses) by the time they were 15 or 16, with transport mainly by moped (from 14 in Switzerland, you need to be 18 to drive) and with small salaries, and were considered young adults by the community in general and behaving in a correspondingly responsible manner (usually!). My husband and his friends took their mopeds on camping trips as far away as 250 km over a mountain pass, to Italy, aged 15 or so… Spluegen015a049on this sort of thing (not the exact one!) and I’m assuming, with helmets – and camping gear?! moped

And so it was that our children also grew up in the country. Swiss kindergartens ask parents not to accompany children after the first 6 wks or so – aged 4/5. It is expected that the children learn to be independent and punctual. Of course they dawdle and linger, or so-and-so pushed whatsisname in the ditch, but they soon learn. My grandson walks over 20 minutes (uphill) to kindergarten. He’s 5. They wear a luminous sash for traffic safety and even in the country, they learn to deal with that traffic – crossing main roads, rail tracks, junctions. Our children only had to walk through the village to get to kindergarten and school and there were lunchtimes (Swiss children all go home for lunch!) when I ended up hurriedly heading around by bike while lunch got cold to see where one or other of my daughters had been “lost” – usually by accompanying some other child home and being distracted playing or collecting leaves or playing in the stream or having stopped at the shop for sweets… and so on. But they did have their independence and it was expected. Parents were specifically asked not to take or fetch children, especially not by car. Some made exceptions when the weather was filthy, but most didn’t, it was just part of the experience. Mine often came home wet – either from rain/snow or because they’d plunged their heads in the village fountain to cool off… Interestingly, parents living outside the village were asked to arrange for children coming in by bike to leave their bikes at the edge of the village and walk the rest of the way – it’s important for children to experience walking to school together in mixed age groups, seeing their friends or fighting their enemies. Of course there was spitefulness or fighting or bullying, but we mothers lived along the routes the children took and knew who the other childrens’ parents were, so anything like that was soon checked and warnings issued. It was never a problem to caution someone else’s child – if we did so the other parents generally knew their child had done something to deserve it!! We weren’t Big Brother – we were Big Momma, a whole village of us! IMG_2770

Again, there weren’t many extracurricular activities on offer, so after school and once homework was sorted, the kids played outside until it got dark, much as we had done when we were kids. We asked our girls not to go in the woods to play, but the whole village was their playground, including any farms within walking distance. Farms in Switzerland are still very small compared to most places (20 cows is a big farm…) and built in the traditional style and I’m sure my girls had a lot of fun in hay and straw barns, building castles, cuddling kittens, helping muck out other people’s animals and I never heard a complaint from any of the farmers or their wives – again, they warned the children of the dangers and then expected the children to act accordingly once they’d been advised. And they did! Without helmets or other armour… for the cost of the bathwater :)IMG_2764

Interestingly, I noticed that only parents who weren’t Swiss imposed any bounds on this kind of freedom (not all, but many!). Despite the recent political scandal of voting “against” foreigners, we do have a large (25%) population of non-Swiss – strictly speaking, of which I am one! And that is what I now hear from my daughter: where she wants her children to have a similarly free childhood in the countryside where they live (a tiny settlement of only about 30 houses), these days many parents are from “somewhere else” and bring a different attitude with them, refusing to accept the tried and tested methods that have worked here for so long and upsetting the balance with those who grew up in this tradition. They aren’t willing to allow their 5-12 yr olds to walk/bike to school alone and herd them in large organised groups like small mixed classes, so they don’t have the adventures, fights and general experiences that ought to be part of growing up. Many insist on driving their children the 2 minutes to school, certainly as soon as it might be cold or threatening a drop of rain. They want their children supervised every moment of the day, especially when they’re playing at another child’s house or else there are organised activities and no real free or unstructured time at all. And here the problems really arise when another mother isn’t prepared to subject her children to that kind of control (and, like most of us, has other things to do!). She and her children are soon negatively labelled because they don’t want to be part of this new regime and they are easily ostracised, even though they are the ones following tradition. At least until they find like-minded neighbours. You wonder why some families bother moving to the country, really! (It is not unheard of for incomers to complain about cow or church bells – hello??!!)IMG_2769

I really am thrilled to see my 5 and 2 year old grandchildren outdoors so much. They are often barefoot and/or half-naked, they can run and jump and balance and slide and swing and climb and dig and get dirty and wet and generally have a wonderful time. They can have dogs and cats, know chickens, cows, sheep and goats intimately, have any number of horses and ponies close by, ride bikes and boards and skates and tractors and are capable of walking some pretty good distances. They do most of this with minimal supervision (obviously depending on age) and the children are used to having a bruise here or a scrape there and rarely cry or whine or make a fuss, they just get up and continue to use ropes in endless interesting ways, use chalk on any hard surfaces, bounce on the trampoline or spread sand around. Or help Mom and Dad with grownup jobs from cooking to house renovation – with REAL tools!! My overseas family and friends are astounded to hear that once a week, my grandson’s kindergarten walk off into the woods (a matter of yards), climb trees, make fires, grill sausages and not only allow the children to have sharp whittling knives to chip on bits of branch that they find, but actually teach them how to use them, as well as being allowed to touch nature and get dirty, tired and happy…  chindsgiAll-weather kindergarten in the woods…

And all this is why I am so sad and shocked to read how supposed “health and safety” has spoilt childhood for children. Which type of child is better off? I know what I think!!

PS It would be lovely to have stacks of photos to illustrate all this – only the point is, most of it happened/happens away from the prying eyes of parents with cameras… :) :) :)

The Big 3-0

We all say “time flies” and are amazed and/or alarmed when another week, month or year has passed. But take a longer period of time, look back – and then go and try and remember how it felt to look forward… Wow. That’s quite something!!IMG_2711

On this photo, I was 19 and that little baby was just over a day old. The odds were rather against us in many ways, but fate, luck, an optimistic outlook, family, friends and probably a few guardian angels in various guises, amongst other things, prevailed and today, it’s 30 years later and I feel a bit like I haven’t quite stopped spinning and whoosh, here we are!

Cheerful, inquisitive, easy and game for anything have always been qualities my little daughter seems to have had from the start. She has won hearts with her helpful, sunny nature all her life, played, worked and laughed hard, and made the effort to grow and grow… It has been more than worthwhile to invest in her musical and dance talents and encourage her language and intellectual skills. It has been enormous fun being a mother (most of the time! ;o) – and having the gift of my daughter’s friendship is invaluable, as well as a son-in-law and grandchildren LOL!! We are incredibly grateful that this is the way it is!

From this, her 1st birthday, IMG_2713to this, her 29th IMG_1300and all the years inbetween and to come, thank you so much – and Happy 30th Birthday!!!

A Walk in the Park

A couple of years ago, I wrote about visiting Mannheim and seeing the Art Nouveau-style Friedrichsplatz park and water tower and the very large palace (second only to Versailles). This week I had the opportunity to go back in glorious spring weather, and as the palace museum was closed (again!), I wandered off to spend a few hours in the Luisenpark, a city park which takes up a portion of land between the centre of town and the river Neckar, as far as I can make out, about 40 ha – pretty big! IMG_2657Although the park was first landscaped from 1886, the television tower in the background has only been there since 1975 – there’s a restaurant that rotates up at the top. The park began at only about 10 ha and was added to over the years, finally incorporating a (horse) racetrack where there is now large area of playing fields and playgrounds, dotted with trees for shade: on this bright, warm spring day there were groups of children and special needs adults settled in for a picnic lunch under the biggest ones and it was a bright, noisy and happy-sounding area!

The trees are all lovely – sunlight does help! – and I was surprised to see fruit trees in blossom, as they aren’t anywhere near being out a couple of hours further south where we live. It’s like pretty spring snow… IMG_2659The other thing I smiled about was the number of storks in the park, searching for food (or with their beaks deep in buckets of feed!) and flying to and from large, messy nests, one of which was on the top of a roomy voliere that also contained, among other birds, a stork – perhaps it had been injured? (The picture isn’t very good but that’s real life for you!) IMG_2660I thought I’d caught them with their heads back, rattling, but I seem to have been a millisecond too late… This appears to be their greeting whenever one gets back to the nest. We have quite a lot of storks here just south of Lake Constance and a friend was surprised when I wasn’t astounded when she took me to see a large colony of storks on the River Aare near Solothurn – it just happens that we both live near storks, though they aren’t common elsewhere, really. These storks in Mannheim, I discovered, are actually the park mascots and since a couple first settled in 1985 the colony has grown to around 30 couples – definitely a success story! (You may know that many storks die each year while migrating south to Spain and North Africa, as they get caught in electrical wiring, which is very sad.)

Although I was expecting to see the various parrots, ducks and other birds from signposts on the paths, these weren’t at all what I thought I would see - IMG_2664These are Humboldt penguins from South America / Chile and Peru and were delightful to watch as they dived, swam and chased each other through their long water track. Quite small, they are very nimble indeed and the water is so clear you could easily see them “flying” underwater and then they popped their little pink faces up to see what was going on. When they charge through the water (very fast!) they occasionally give a little jump off the water surface, which made me laugh, they are proper little clowns! I am fascinated by the shimmering shiny surface of their feathered coats that they preen, and by their comical clumsiness on land and spent quite a while watching this group of about a dozen birds in total.

I’m not sure where the black-necked swans are from but they certainly looked very pretty under the blossoming tree, almost like Japanese art! IMG_2670And I was extremely taken with these unusual… geese, I think, looking at the shape of their beaks! I don’t know, they might be large ducks? When they sat down in the grass they made a very satisfying, smooth dough shape! However, I have forgotten what their label was ;o It’s hard to believe that their chests and sides are feathers, so smooth and even. And all that dramatic eye make-up with pink stockings.IMG_2675Here are another two rather comical birds – it still seems weird that bird’s “knees” go the wrong way, though of course I know they are really on their “heels”, but in this constellation IMG_2676it does look rather funny! I think they are marabu; the one at the back had red-brown eyes and the other had very bright yellow eyes – which opened wide as the whole birds extended when some sound caught their attention, except they didn’t stand up… Otherwise they sat there stoically ignoring the passing pedestrians (you aren’t allowed to feed the birds fortunately, or they may well have become quite annoying!).

One of my favourite parts of the park was a “mountain stream” garden, which looked to me more like a Japanese garden (but what do I know?!), where under the trees there were patches of violets whose delicate scent wafted out if you bothered to stop and inhale it. It really was just a whisper but probably my favourite smell. So I lingered…
Actually, now I look at this photo, I see it’s perennial forget-me-nots, of which there were also many. Drat, I thought I’d snapped the violets!

It’s still very early for anything else to be blooming, a few scilla were out and a couple of patches of daffodils – this particular one perfectly positioned under the shadow of a tree, making a perfect “blooming shadow” picture! IMG_2683I had hoped to sit quietly over a nice cup of Chinese tea in the enormous tea house, but it only opens in the afternoons, so I missed out. The gardens around it are tranquil and pretty, though, and in the later spring they will be genuinely fantastic – there are hundreds of tree paeonies, some early ones already coming into leaf and bud, set into garden beds between imposing rocks and under overhanging branches. I’m sure it will be breathtaking! IMG_2681IMG_2682A fairly large lake runs through most of the park, which is lovely for all the different ducks that live freely, but then I rounded a corner of the rhododendron walk to see this IMG_2686My youngest daughter has always loved flamingoes, so how could I not photograph these beauties for her?! There were also some dwarf flamingoes nearby, smaller, more compact and a bit deeper in colouring. I think they were all enjoying a spring snooze.

Which is pretty much all I wanted by the time I had walked around the park for several hours! I certainly can’t complain about the hotel facilities, as despite being in the middle of a (it has to be said!) rather grubby part of town, they have made the effort to have a bright and sunny spring garden in the middle of it all… IMG_2656That’s the Delta Park Hotel garden in Mannheim, where we had a generously sized room! The conservatory/breakfast/dining room is newly renovated, presumably the garden, too.


Falling into obscurity – and some art

These days, we tend not to assume that Switzerland is the “land of the Switzers”, partly because that sounds a bit silly, somehow. However, nobody should be laughed at if they did think this – it turns out that one of the legends about the origin of the name is one of those “fighting brothers” stories, and the immigrant Alemann who won the fight got to name the land they were occupying – Suit, or Swit, they say his name was. See! Not far to Suittersland and Switzerland, then…

Swit must have lived a long time ago, before even the Romans came over the Alps, and his little piece of paradise was a small, fairly flat valley deep among some very high mountains (literally the things myths are made of – the Mythen) but with easy access to two lakes as well, the smaller Lauernzer and the much larger Lake Lucerne, which has fingers clamped along several valleys, so making transport and commerce fairly easy.

Now, of course, we know that this tiny canton was one of the first, founding cantons (along with Uri and Unterwalden) and that its flag is the basis of our country’s flag - SchwyzHowever, I was surprised to find that it was quite difficult to actually find out much about the village of Schwyz itself apart from some standard information, but as ever in this country, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of interest in the history of it, how it grew, why there are some very elegant 19th century properties or even why the hugely dominating St. Martin’s church is so incredibly enormous. Only that it all burned down in the 17th century and had to be rebuilt. After most of the villagers had died of the plague a few years earlier. The fact that it is a village – 14000 inhabitants these days – rather than a town is already a little puzzling, since it’s the capital of the canton (though there are other cantons where this is the case, e.g. Appenzell) and it has an elaborate painted town hall that holds extremely important documents, like those which show how Switzerland was founded in 1291! Schwyz_Hauptplatz

Which leads me to one of the oldest, if not the oldest, building I could find, the Archive Tower. Built in the 13th century, or even as early as 1200, it doesn’t seem to have been used for defence for very long and was soon given over as a prison and treasury, plastered over, made to look more modern, a separate staircase built on and finally in the 1930s, taken back to bare stone – and then pretty much left to it. It’s now tucked in behind other buildings… Foto_ArchivturmSchwyz_-_Haus_Bethlehem

Apparently, the Bet(h)lehem house is also famed for its age, celebrated as the oldest wooden house in Europe and dating to around 1287. It looks very much like any other old house in the area, partly plastered foundations and weathered old wood exterior. It doesn’t look as if anyone is very interested in it, either. (Though it is part of the Ital Reding museum in a large 17th century house and I will try to visit when it’s open in the summer months.) The original village of Schwyz is squashed and huddled, despite open areas, while all through and around it there have grown late 20th and early 21st century concrete boxes, both for commercial and residential use. If the church wasn’t so domineering, you might not notice you’d actually driven through the middle of Schwyz, which grows seamlessly into several other villages these days, but try as I might, I could not find any old photographs or lithographs of how Schwyz looked up to the mid-20th century (since it probably looked much the same for several hundred years!). This little picture doesn’t do it  justice, and the massiveness of the church doesn’t come over, either, though otherwise it looks much the same as in 1890… Schwyz 1890Somehow, I feel a bit sorry for Schwyz. So important and yet so obscure. The canton is a rich one with land in extremely lucrative places where taxes are low and the proportion of millionaires very high, but right in the very heart of it, where Switzerland began, is a quiet, sleepy little place without much sense of its history or value (except to a lucky few, I suppose, who will have a tiny historical society somewhere!), and which can’t really compete – even that monster of a church is dwarfed by the world-famous monasterial one at Einsiedeln (also canton Schwyz)…

In all the years I have lived here, I stopped in Schwyz for the first time today. It was nearly the last day of a lovely little exhibition of modern paper cuts – and really, a very fitting location for a craft that seems as quintessentially Swiss as could possibly be… Wild und Wald

Ueli Hauswirth – Wild und Wald

The exhibition is now moving on to the Château de Prangins for the rest of the spring and summer; this craft has a very popular tradition in the Pays d’Enhaut area of the Suisse Romande. 

Those interested in the craft may already know that paper-cutting is quite the trend – check out http://www.designsponge.com/2013/02/25-amazing-papercut-artists.html or google Rob Ryan paper cuts…Mind-boggling!


Landscape alphabet

From the age of romance (apparently!), a very beautiful series of 19th century letters at


I would loved to have copied one or the other to show you but it seems the British Museum is strict about use of their images, but please do have a look!

Some other art I’m feeling enthusiastic about just now is that of Mela Koehler, who was part of the Wiener Werkstätte between 1903-1932 and whose style I think is gorgeous, if typical for the age… MelaKoehler+WW522+19111+metmseum Is it a coincidence that the little dog there is a spaniel?! Never seen a white one, tho’!

Happy Hearts Day!

IMG_2589Time for another collector’s round – today it’s appropriate that we look at hearts! All of the ones I’m showing you are here all the year round as I do think the heart has a happy symbolism, so I want to cultivate that :) IMG_2597IMG_2581Hearts of stone IMG_2585Hearts of glass IMG_2596IMG_2588IMG_2590Hearts of fire IMG_2593Heart of buttons IMG_2583IMG_2584IMG_2591IMG_2586Hearts of metal IMG_2582IMG_2587Hearts of clay IMG_2592…just lots of love, really…