Favourite Quotes

"When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." - The Sound of Music

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Feeling Poetic

So, following on from my last post about World Book Night, one of the unexpected side effects was that I had the urge to get out my copy of Selected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, which was one of my A level set texts. I remembered that there were some poems from The World's Wife (which was one of the World Book Night books), and I fancied re-reading them. In the end, I read the whole book.

It was interesting. I didn't really 'get' Carol Ann Duffy at Sixth Form. I found the poems vaguely disturbing, and over my head. This time round, I found some gems - poems which actually spoke to me. This one, in particular, made sense in a way I could never have imagined 13 years ago.


Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.

Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what's the word for

You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one
you saw a name for yourself sprayed red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.

And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream. Imagine that.

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about the hate names here (the SVP posters, maybe, but no hate names), and at least the Swiss French like the English accent... but this struck a chord. The struggle of trying to convey your thoughts in another language. The frustration when you just don't know the right word for something in the shops - or in my case, the embarrassment of carefully demanding 'un petit truc pour prendre la température' only to be told that the word I want is 'thermomètre'.

But it is odd, to be a foreigner. Today I discovered (when talking to a friend) that one of the other outpatients at ergothérapie is also English. I hadn't even noticed her English accent, and presumably she didn't notice mine. We are both so accustomed to being foreigners we don't recognise a fellow countryman when we hear them.

Sometimes I feel like I am loosing my English as my mind fills up with French. I quite often pause, in the middle of a sentence, groping for a word - and these days, I am just as likely to do that in one language as another. I talk in English about people 'supporting' pain when I mean 'cope with', because the French is 'supporter'. I asked my social worker if I was 'intitué' to benefits when I should have said 'avoir droit de', because 'intitulé' means 'entitled' too... but only in the sense of the name of a book. And sometimes, I come out with words which make sense in neither tongue, words which no-one can understand - even me.

Monday, 14 March 2011

What book would you give away for free?

I caught part of the television coverage of World Book Night last week. I must admit I was rather jealous at first - the idea of being able to get a new book to read for free is even more enticing when you live abroad. Since I've been in Switzerland, most of my new reading matter has come from the biannual book sales organised by the Library in English in Geneva, which tends to yield varied rewards (I'm still mourning the lost opportunity of Love Over Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith, which I saw at the Autumn book sale and passed over, mistakenly thinking I owned a copy, only to discover upon my return that I do not...). There are also the books from my reading group, which have proved to be a mixed bunch. Some of them I'll gladly read again (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer), while some of them only retain their place on my bookshelf because I purchased a new book case recently and it isn't full yet (The Lone-Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie).

So, to get back to World Book Night, having watched the footage I was intrigued enough, when I got home, to investigate the twenty-five titles that the reading public of England considered good enough to share with complete strangers. An interesting selection. I'd read three and a half, heard of 6 more. The rest meant nothing to me. And of those I've read... well Northern Lights (Philip Pullman) is one of the 3 most disturbing books I've ever read (the other 2 being the sequels). Some Christians talk as if Harry Potter was the worst thing ever to happen to children's literature... they obviously haven't read His Dark Materials. Dangerous, disturbing and mesmerisingly well written - I've never before had the experience of knowing what I was reading was evil and wrong, but at the same time being unable to put the book down because I was so involved in the story. So, so far, not very impressed. Beloved (Toni Morrison)... I read it about a decade ago, I know it's a good book but I can't say it left a lasting impression on me. Then there was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon), the only book of the twenty-five I own. It's a powerful story, and it brings to life an important issue (autism), but I wouldn't say it was a 'must read' for me. Not what I would have voted for.

In fact, the whole list was a bit of a disappointment. Looking at it, one would have to assume that nothing worth reading had been written before 1929, at the very earliest, and that there had then been a 30 year drought before more good books started to be written in the 1960s. And things didn't really get going until the new millennium (fourteen of the books were published within the last decade). Is this really the cream of English writing? Or is this the literary equivalent of a church that decides that if a song wasn't written after 1980, it isn't worth singing? What about the books that have stood the test of time? No Jane Austen? Nothing by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters? (Not that I like Dickens, but it's the principle of the thing). No Thomas Hardy or George Eliott? Haven't people heard of a bloke called Shakespeare?

So, I'm just wondering - am I alone in feeling that this list was narrow and modernistic?

And what would I have chosen? Well, that's a tricky question. If I were to chose a novel, it would probably be Mansfield Park. Victims of bullying, adultery, the place of religion in modern society, choosing between sexual attraction and comparability of value systems in your life partner... aren't those all issues we face today? For poetry, I'd probably go for George Herbert. Yes, his poems may be about religion, but I carry them around with me in my handbag and find something applicable when I open the book at random. As for a play... it would have to be Much Ado About Nothing - surely the original romantic comedy.

Right, I must go and check my mail. I ordered To Miss With Love and the new Jasper Fforde the other week and they haven't come yet...

Thursday, 30 December 2010

This funny place called England...

So, after a year and a half in Switzerland, I have ventured back to my native land for a short visit. It is proving to be a bit of a culture shock. For starters, everyone speaks English! You understand what fellow shoppers are saying to each other, and the local news makes sense... this is a very puzzling state of affairs. Compounding this, I have apparently forgotten how to speak English. I had to go into an Orange shop to ask a question about my UK mobile phone (finally exiting from it's box after nearly a year). I had the greatest difficulty in working out how to phrase my query! Most mysterious.

I am also in great danger because all of the cars drive on the left side of the road. Not being a driver, I did not think that this would pose a problem. But I keep on looking in the wrong direction, and then attempting to plunge out into the path of incoming traffic... thankfully so far I have not been out on my own.

Things seem very cheap too. Partly this is because paracetamol and so forth are cheaper than in Switzerland... but also because of the exchange rate.

Another issue, particularly relevant as I type, is that all the keyboards are wrong. Z is where Y should be and the @ sign has moved... this makes logging into practically anything a difficult task requiring concentration of more than usual intensity!

The best part, however, has got to be the food. Brown sugar... real sausages... cheddar cheese... all delights which I have been missing for the past year and a half. I've been promised a Chinese takeaway next week. Now, do you think I can smuggle some cheese past customs?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas Markets

Well here we are, middle of December, and I realise I haven't posted anything for a month and a half... oops.

Well I do have an excuse - several excuses in fact. National Novel Writing Month took up a lot of words... I didn't have any spare to blog with. And in any spare time I had when I wasn't writing, I was busy as a bee creating jewellery for the Christmas markets in December.

So here we are, in December, and the trade at the markets has been... well not exactly roaring but I have sold a few things. More importantly, I have gained a wealth of knowledge about how to conduct oneself when selling things at a Christmas market.

1) If the market is outside, wear warm shoes (fur-lined boots, for example), and two pairs of socks. Yes, that's two. One pair will not suffice, even if they are thick and woolly. Also, tights or leggings under trousers are a must, because your legs will be exposed to the cold.

2) If you are in a kiosque, make sure that there is some light inside the stall as well as lights shining on your wares outside. Otherwise people are too intimidated to approach the yawning blackness of your hideaway... and there is also a possibility that people may conclude that no-one is there and try and make off with things (not that this has happened, but you never know...).

3) When yobs from your native country hang around swearing and behaving in a loutish manner, put on your best 'teacher voice' and tell them off. They will be so shocked to realise that not everyone sitting behind a stall is a 'foreigner' who doesn't understand English that they will bend to the authority in your voice and shut up and go meekly on their way!

4) Try and agree with your fellow stall holders on the best way to attract customers beforehand. This will save you many tedious conversations along the following lines:
"When you hang around outside the kiosque, it puts people off. I think you should come inside."
"No, it helps me to make eye contact and draws people in."
"Honestly, I think you're frightening people away..."
(Other person comes in. Ten minutes later...)
"Well I came inside and no-one's bought anything. I think I'm going to go back outside and ask all the children who go past if they want to make a bracelet."
"You can't just start talking to random children!"
"You may be right. It would look strange for me to be approaching children."
(Sigh of relief.)
"... But that's because I'm a man. You go outside and talk to the children - and take some craft with you, to catch their attention!"
So of course you give in, go outside and try and draw people in... and it works and you are stuck outside for the next 45 minutes until your mother rescues you because your fingers are turning blue...

5) Resign yourself to the fact that wherever your stall is located, it will be the worst possible location. If, for example, you are near one end of the market, parents will say to their children "We're not buying anything here, there is lots more to see." or "I'm not buying you that, I've spent enough on you already." Adult potential customers are presumably thinking along the same lines. On the other hand, if your stall is in the middle, teenagers will admire your wares and then say "I don't have enough money left.", all the while munching on the junk food they have squandered their savings on.

So there you go. I'm off to another Christmas market tomorrow, and armed with all this knowledge it should go well. Except it's indoors so I probably won't need to be so warmly dressed, and I won't have to worry about snow ruining my choicest pieces!

Oh, I almost forgot. Keep a box of tissues on hand. Woollen gloves make noses very sore and tender even if you only rub them once!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

November is nearly here...

Yes, that's right, in 2 days time it will be November and that means that it is very nearly time for National Novel Writing Month! Yippee! Welcome to 30 days of hectic, chaotic, finger achingly good fun as people from all around the world attempt the mammoth task of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month.

Last year I managed to complete the challenge, but didn't manage to finish the novel I was writing. So this year, just to prove that I am completely mad, I am going to try and write the whole sequel in November - which I estimate should come out at somewhere between 90 and 100 thousand words. That's 4,000 words a day, with a rest on Sundays.

I'm all set. I have my plans, my outlines, my character studies, my backgrounds, my laptop... and plenty of time (for once). Nothing can stop me now!

Why not join me? It's not too late to sign up and join in the novelling fun!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Fur-lined boots

About this time last year, I was on the hunt for a pair of warm boots. At the time, I was working in a job which required me to wear slippers all day, and what I wanted were some boots that would keep my feet warm when all the snow that people kept telling me was going to come came. However, due to the slipper factor and the fact that I invariably left it until almost the last minute to leave to catch the bus, I also wanted boots that I could slip on and off easily.

Well, eventually I found some. They were tall, black, with pretty embroidery around the tops, and lined with fur. Smart but comfortable, they were exactly what I was looking for. They were also horrendously expensive. Still, I reasoned, I'll wear them practically every day when it gets cold... and it is so hard to find nice shoes that fit my feet... So I bought the boots.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control I hardly wore the boots that winter. They didn't really go with the jogging bottoms I spent most of the winter in, and also I was in an environment where I did need to keep my shoes on. So they sat in the corner of my hospital room, and looked beautiful and shiny, but rather out of place.

The boots have passed the spring, summer and winter sitting at the bottom of my wardrobe, under my skirts, looking rather forlorn, and taking up a lot of space. Until today, when I decided the time was ripe (and the weather was cold), and got them out, dusted them off and put them on for a visit to Fontanivent.

I should have been put on my guard on the train, when I had to take my coat off, that something was wrong. But no, I ignored the warning signs and carried on. It was not until this afternoon, when my father took me and my boots on a hike to Blonay, that I realised my mistake: it is not yet cold enough to wear the boots.

Fur-lined boots, you see, when worn in unsuitably warm weather and taken on an energetic walk, have the effect of making one uncomfortably hot. I was regretting my decision to wear the boots by the time we reached the communal swimming pool. At Migros, I dived for the chiller cabinet and grabbed a bottle of water, which I proceeded to swig down outside the store. Our shopping done, there was the long, warm walk back...

So here I am, in October, walking around with bare feet (my mother has just discovered my damp socks sitting on the hall table and is not impressed), and mournfully contemplating the fact that I have no other shoes to wear to church tomorrow.

The boots, I am sad to say, will be relegated to the wardrobe once more on my return. Perhaps when it snows...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bijoux... or jewellery for the anglophones out there!

The last couple of months I have been very busy making bracelets and necklaces in ergothérapie ready for the Christmas markets. I am selling my wares in three markets this year: the one at Prangins hospital (which was where the idea of Christmas markets was first suggested to me), the local market at Préverenges, and the super big and very wonderful Christmas market at Montreux.

In the first two of these I will be a girl with a table, some creations, pretty business cards and a box of money (I hope). In Montreux me selling my jewellery is part of a bigger picture - we are opening up the Kiosque Biblique and hoping to reach out to all the people who come to the market at Christmas.

So what am I selling? Well most of my jewellery is based on plaiting, either with 3, 5, 8, or 12 strands. I plait with leather cord, velour thread, waxed cotton thread, strands of beads and even electric wire... basically anything I can get to hold in a plait! I think my favourites are the ones made with black velour and a single strand of small beads - the contrast is very effective and the velour is very soft. I have also used coiled wire to make bracelets that wrap around your wrist and hooped earrings to match. Finally, just this afternoon, I started to master the art of Indian braids for hair, which can also be used to make bracelets.

So in short I am making a diverse range of jewellery, out of a wide range of materials... which I will be selling in a variety of places on different dates in December!

As one of my mentors used to say when I was a student teacher: "I'm flexible." The difference is, I'm not saying it through gritted teeth!