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?
Thursday, 30 December 2010
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
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
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
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
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!
Saturday, 4 September 2010
Went to Montreux today, as usual, to run the "Kiosque Biblique" with my dad. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill afternoon. Reasonable number of customers (we took over 100 francs), mainly buying postcards and stamps, with a fair number of magnets thrown in for good measure. I spent a fair portion of my time sitting down writing out price labels for the giant pencils, as I spotted that due to an error the white-pencils-with-pictures-of-Switzerland-and-a-pencil-sharpener were priced at the same price as the clearly more expensive red-pencils-with-the-Swiss-cross-and-a-pencil-sharpener-AND-a-cow-keyring variety. Dull, but in a pleasant way. Sometimes, when life has been very hectic and eventful, dull is quite reassuring.
It was also a good opportunity to observe all the little foibles of the tourist on holiday. We had nearly all the usual suspects today.
1) The "I am going to talk to you in my own language and expect you to understand" type. Today, it was all Germans. I have some sympathy for Germans. After all, in some parts of Switzerland we do speak German. Just not in Montreux. I have less sympathy for the Americans (or, I'm ashamed to admit it, the English).
2) The "I am going to display my ignorance of Switzerland's position within Europe and demand to pay in Euros" type. Please note: demand, not ask. You tell them the price and they say "What is that in Euros?", not asking if you take them but assuming that you do. Related to this type are those who ask to pay in dollars, or by credit card! (We are talking about a small wooden chalet by the side of the lake with a float of about 200 francs and they expect us to take cards?!?)
3) The "I am going to ask for a discount on the already very reasonably priced souvenirs" type. We once had someone try and bargain with us for ten minutes before she gave up and went away.
In fact, the only kind of tourist we didn't have today was, thankfully, the kind I dislike the most. Picture the scene: you have been running the kiosque for nearly 3 hours and are ready to go home. You've totted up the balance, started to clear things away, and it's just the tall postcard stands left. You start to take the brakes off and roll them towards the door to be stored in the chalet. Then along comes...
4) The "I am going to make a lengthy inspection of your postcards even though it is blindingly obvious that you are closing up and want to go home" type. These people just cannot take a hint! You close the shutters, shut up the counter, put everything else away... and they are still there. In the end, they either come up with a handful to buy, forcing you to get out the till box and the notebook all over again... or they finally 'notice' you standing idly by and walk off with an offended expression!
Well, those are the tourists I meet on a Thursday and Saturday afternoon. I hope, when I am a tourist myself, that I avoid all of these types and am a pleasure to serve... but somehow I doubt it!
Saturday, 28 August 2010
I must be a very greedy person. I never thought of myself as greedy, or of being much of a foodie, but having lived in Switzerland for over a year now I find that the things I miss most from England are mainly food related.
Twiglets. A friend came to see me last week and brought me two six-packs of Twiglets. I have so far eaten seven mini packets, one day, I am ashamed to admit, I ate three in a row.There's just something about Twiglets... the crunchiness, the rich yeasty taste... there's nothing like that here. Tortilla chips come a poor second. Plus, my cat adores Twiglets. She is always much more friendly when she catches the aroma of them in the air!
Mints. Not any mints in particular, although I could wax lyrical on the relative merits of mint imperials, mint humbugs, mint creams and mint crumbles... just plain old mints. In Migros there are just three kinds of mints: sports mints (which are soft and chewy - ick), peppermint lozenges (which come in an unsatisfying small roll) and tic-tacs. That's it. A whole isle of chocolate, mind you, but a disappointingly small numbers of minty treats.
Liquorice. I have had one (yes, one) liquorice whirl since I came here. I miss catherine wheels - the long strand of liquorice and then the squidgy dimpled sweet in the middle...
Cheddar cheese. This may be heresy in Switzerland, but I yearn for cheddar. Tesco's Canadian Extra Mature Cheddar. I could eat a block of it.
And finally, my great yearning... Chinese Takeaway. Chicken chow mein. Sweet and sour sauce. Black bean sauce. Bamboo shoots. Peking duck with pancakes. I used to ring up my brother to pick me up from work and we would stop at the takeaway and I would take these delights home for dinner (and often lunch the next day). Or I would have all my friends round and we would spread bin bags on the floor and order a wide selection of food and then sit and share it...
I had better stop now before I start dribbling over my keyboard!
Monday, 16 August 2010
So I've been out of hospital for a week now. And I'm bored. I am not allowed to go back to having French lessons. I am not allowed to even think about looking for a job. And I'm not even supposed to be thinking about doing voluntary work yet.
So what can I do?
I go to ergothérapie (Tuesdays and Fridays). I have finished my Christmas presents and am now working on restoring an antique dining chair because I thought it looked pretty. Combined with this are physiotherapy - the session I go to is working on posture. Then there is my Affirmation de Soi group. At the moment we are working on making demands and refusing other people's demands. The problem is I don't have many things to ask and no-one has asked me to do anything I haven't wanted to do this week, so my homework has been minimal!
And then if the weather isn't too bad I go to the Kiosque Biblique at Montreux on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
And of course on Sundays there is church...
But the rest of the time is just this big empty space that I need to fill.
Don't feel like writing at the moment - still waiting to hear back from the literary agents and can't work out if that is a good or a bad thing.
Oh so bored....
I do not like taking things slowly.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
Well the psychiatric hospital have let the patient in room 133 out for the day and as my sole reader has been asking me to update... here I am.
Have spent the last ummm.... month and a bit back in Prangins. There are many advantages to being in a psychiatric hospital when you are depressed - the round the clock nurses on call, the weekly meetings with your psychiatrist, the structured activities (ergothérapie! I've missed doing you so much...), the chance to look around in the dining room and realise that, actually, there are people in here a lot worse off than you... but sadly the idea of internet access has not quite caught on. It's like going cold turkey - no e-mails, no Facebook, no blogging, no English Forum... argh!
Seem to be slowly crawling out of the pit again, but still ploughing through the 'long, difficult task' of sorting myself out. Some days are good, some days a little bit harder (I know that's from a song, but I can't for the life of me remember which one). I've been able to see Fluffy, the little black and white cat who haunts the hospital grounds and eats cat food faster than any other cat I've known (and this, considering that Tabitha was on a diet for over a year because she was so fat, is saying something). And I have started lots of lovely craft projects and Christmas presents - talk about planning ahead.
While I was in hospital my copy of the 2011 Writers' and Artists' Yearbook came through, so I devoted many hours to devouring it and even more to carefully crafting a synopsis and cover letter, both of which have been put to use in a submission to the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency - eek! The website says they aim to respond within four weeks, so I shall be anxiously checking e-mails every time I get leave.
Well today's leave was for laundry, so I'd better go and get some out of the machine!
Sunday, 4 July 2010
I woke up at 3:30am this morning. I lay in my parents' spare room and went though the Twenty Questions of Nocturnal Awakeness. Did I take my medication last night? Am I too hot? Am I too cold? Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Are those wretched birds singing outside the window? Am I worried about something?... and so on. No good. Could not pinpoint the source of the early morning wake up at all. So I laid there, amused myself by telling a story in French, and finally got back to sleep.
Sunday mornings come too early as it is. The whole first part of the day is a rush to get out of the door on time, with everything we need. Quiet Time-Bath-Dress-Breakfast-Clean Teeth-Pack-Leave. With a very slight chance of a 'check e-mails' if the clock allows...
Then when we got to church there was this slightly unreal sense of being at the right place, but at the wrong time. I suppose the sight of my father reading 'The 31 Days of Christmas' should have forewarned me to some extent, but nevertheless I really wasn't expecting to sing a Christmas carol in church. In July. However, I have to admit that a) the said carol really did fit with the sermon, and b) having spent the whole of last December in hospital, it was quite nice to sing a Christmas carol, as I missed that experience last winter!
Sermon was excellent too. Unfortunately I am still suffering from 'stuffed-with-sawdust' syndrome (wasn't that the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz?) so what should have been a real encouragement and blessing to me was met by an intellectual consent but an emotional blank. I don't like feeling blank. Must talk to my psychiatrist about this.
Am having a bad day rice-wise. Lunch's rice refused to cook, and the rice pudding I am trying to cook at this moment is showing the same stubborn resistance to heat and moisture. Obstinate stuff.
My mother's weather forecast this morning was 'T-storms'. Not an item of clothing, or a hot beverage, but, apparently, a shortened form of 'thunderstorm'. And we had one. Right in the middle of this evening's service. The thunder itself was unimpressive, but the rain was so loud I struggled to hear the preacher. But, rather like the proverbial tea-cup storm, it was of short duration. Still hot and heavy weather though. Hope the workmen let me have my windows open tomorrow.
Saturday, 3 July 2010
So, here I am, first blog. Never done this before... but I feel the need to muse about my life in general so I thought I'd give this a go.
I went to the Montreux Jazz Festival today to man the Kiosque Biblique with my dad. It was warm and beautiful by the lake, although the white, graffiti-marred tents did rather spoil the view! I wandered the stalls bare-foot, gathering lots of ideas for my next projects at Ergothérapie - why spend the money when I can create a personalised version for free? I have to say I didn't actually hear much jazz - or any other music for that matter, apart from the single CD of African Music that the soaps-and-hair-braiding stall across the way played over, and over, and over again!
Rather disappointing on the witnessing front, not a single conversation (although people did take free literature). I didn't manage to accost a single stranger - but I did do my 'compliment of the day' - to my dad.
I had a little wobble whilst reading 'Daylight at Midnight' (about the book of Esther). What was supposed to be research for my next book but it turned out to be a little too close to home leading to difficult thoughts about responding to the challenges God sends in our lives. But a chat with my dad and a walk smoothed that over (plus one of my little white pills) - doctor's advice followed, and, as usual, it worked!
May be back for more later... let's see how it goes.