Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Defecto blondo

On doctors’ orders, Sapphire was given permission to get out of the house, see her friends and eat what she liked. “Until the tests all come back, you might as well have fun this weekend,” he said, noting her pale face and eyes brimming with tears. “If it gets worse, then we might even have more information to help us.”


Saturday morning was all systems go.

Love Chunks and his Dutch friend Franck were going to cycle all the way around Lac Leman. As their designated blonde back up support I was to meet them at Montreux where we were staying the night.

Milly the dog was already settled at Auntie Kaye and Uncle Jeff’s house with more essentials than the three Montreux-bound humans combined.  A padded bed, blankie, walking lead, dinner bowl, Tupperware container of breakfast crunchies and foil pack of moist moosh were presumably sufficient to see her through thirty six hours.

In the meantime, Sapphire and I were to take the train to Nyon - Knee-On, not Nigh-On - where Kate and Imi would be waiting on the platform, ready to whisk her off for a session of horse riding. In France.

Afterwards, she was to make her way to Kriti’s house for a birthday party and sleepover and be collected by me at lunch time on Sunday.

Excited to be doing something not wearing pyjamas, Sapphire jiggled on her train seat and  joked with me cheerily as we watched the bright blue of the lake flicker between the chalets and trees. 

“Approche arrĂȘt Nyon,” said the French female voice over the loud speaker.  Sapph gathered her things as the train slowed.

No platform appeared, so we continued to wait by the door and chat, assuming that the train would pull in soon.

My phone rang. It was Kate. “Where are you?”
 “We’re here, just waiting for the train to pull in---- HANG ON, it’s starting to speed up and the door won’t open--------!”

Their faces were a blur as we sped on to Morges.  A few calls established that we’d get off at the next stop, cross platforms and make our way back to Nyon via the Geneva line. 

“I’ll stay on board, kick Sapphire off and continue to Montreux.”
“Er, no you won’t Kath. You’ll end up back home.”
“Ah, yes. My second blonde moment of the day and it’s not even lunchtime yet.”

Minutes later, we were back in Nyon, eyes alert to the very moment the train stopped.

I pressed the green ‘open’ button several times. No movement.  “Damn door!” 

It was after my tenth bash on the button that we noticed the small red sticker with ‘Defecto’ scrawled on it in black texta.  Spanish, when it’s the fifth most commonly-spoken language in the country...?

“Quick – run to the other end of the carriage!”

Whappita whappita whappita went our sandals as they frantically slapped the floor during our mad dash.

We got off just in the nick of time and Kate made me promise to SMS her to confirm my arrival in Montreux.  My actions thus far did not inspire any confidence in my ability to travel in the correct direction.

Luckily, I did make it to Montreux and even found the hotel room that LC had booked a few weeks earlier; a two-star job a street behind the fancy, lake-frontage five star fantasy who owned them.  The sign on the gate – in English – told me to check in at the five star place.

My tiny wheelie case clacked like thunder across the roadway, ratcheting up to a roar on the highly polished marble floor of the five star lobby.  The concierge was busy offering coffee and freshly baked pastries to the American tourists who had also arrived and bellboys were loading bag after bag of brand new Louis Vuitton onto brass luggage trolleys.

“Sorry Madame, you are too early to check in. Please come back at 3pm.”

Very reluctantly, they agreed to store my humble wheelie in their cramped stationery cupboard behind the lift well.  I ostentatiously reached for a peppermint from the jar next to the monogrammed pens on the check in counter – my own special guest freebie - before departing.

Under the bronzed eye of Freddie Mercury, I sat on a park bench overlooking the lake, eating a lunch of a carrot cake and coffee-flavoured yoghurt drink* purchased from a supermarket and noticed that that the chasm between the Five Stars and the Two Stars was evident everywhere.  Sun-yellow umbrellas over outdoor tables were heaving with the wealthy winers and diners paying more than fifty francs for filet au perche et frites, or fish and chips.

Wizened old orange ladies in leopard print promenaded between five star establishments and restaurants in pairs, tea cup poodles in one hand and cigarettes in the other.  The clanking sound that accompanied them was most likely a combination of heavy jewellery and monogrammed dog leads.

Old couples, backpackers and families joined me on warm rocks at the edge of the water or concrete garden edging to eat baguettes and apples, sharing the same view as the millionaires seated several metres behind us.

My phone rang.  Team Love Chunks and Franck had completed the first leg of their bike ride and were waiting back at Hotel Two Star.  Perhaps due to their athletic demeanour or the fact that the Five Star concierge wanted their lycra clad, sweaty, sun block-streaked pongy bodies out of the lobby, they were allowed to check in before the officially permitted time.

LC opened the door with a sneeze. “I’m allergic to something in this room,” he said, sniffling slightly.  “Remind me to put those flowers out in the hallway tonight.”

Several hours later, our walk through, around and in front of the town saw us back at the display board of the first restaurant hoping that the price had somehow dropped to half of what it showed us an hour earlier.  Sadly the answer was no and we realised that their advertised rate of forty two francs for fish and chips was still the cheapest in town. We ordered wine and beers without looking too closely at the menu otherwise we’d all have blanched and rushed to the edge of the lake to slurp directly from it.

Franck left us to use his free hotel bus pass on a ferry to Chateau Chillon and we decided to make the most of our two star room costing an eye-watering 250 francs.

“Kath, can you put those flowers out? They’re making me wheeze.”

Standing over them, I smiled.

“LC? Sweetie? They’re plastic.”  The dumb blonde baton had been passed on.

* Not recommended, unless a vomit after taste is the flavour you're hankering for.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Five franc special

Feeling more fragile since the death of my friends' eighteen year old son on Monday from meningococcal disease, I confess to feeling more annoyed than concerned when Sapphire came home from school with her lingering stomach pains in full flight. Again.

She'd had four days off school last week with our doctor confident that it was just a minor bout of gastro. What for me might have been an uneasy, queasy night would be a week of recovery for Sapphire in light of her almost-indestructible stomach infection she was forced to endure for months late last year.

But she woke up on Tuesday in tears. "Mum, it still hurts."

A dilemma was duking it out within me - was she not able to buck up and tough it out, or was there really something wrong, a week after a meal of slightly-dodgy prawns? Her temperature - taken thrice daily on doctors' orders - in parts of the body that caused my child to smile bravely and say, "Hey, now I know how Milly feels when she goes to the vet," - was normal. Her glands were no longer swollen. Bowel functions were fine.

Her stomach, however, was painful to touch. Again. Blood was taken for testing and we were sent home with two specimen jars that signified their preferred contents via their brown-coloured lids.

These were dropped off this morning before Milly and I set off for a walk. Brown stuff doesn't get analysed locally but gets transported to Zurich. World centre of banking and body waste.

Today she is still in pain, especially when she eats. It is cruel to watch. She's a beautiful thirteen year old girl who is starving but immediately after eating has to fold herself up for a while in a futile attempt to squash the gut stabbings away.

She is bored, too. The sun is blazing outside but she is inside feeling achey, tired and getting paler by the day. Music, reading, DVDs and a few cuddles from Milly before her friends get on the phone and ring her for an update after school.

With a diet so bland that even the lusted-after food before the flaming pain isn't exciting enough, I headed off to Migros to seek some alternatives to plain pasta and potato products. Sapphire was sleeping, so a hand-written note and smiley face was left on the table.

Climbing into the car - left side you idiot, not the right; how long have you lived here for now? - I somehow managed to scrape the key across the bulbous flesh at the end of my nose. Boy that hurt. A glance through teary eyes in the rear vision mirror showed no blood, just an angry glow.

My grocery unloading and packing skills have improved a great deal over the past twelve months. Hands a-blur as each item is laid onto the moving belt and I'm already out the other end flinging the heavy stuff into eco bags faster than the cheerless checkout chick can fling them. Before this improvement consciously moved from being noticed to smug satisfaction, she stopped catapulting cans and asked me a question. In French.

I shrugged and mentioned (in French) that I couldn't speak French. She lifted up my Bargain Brand bag holding four kilograms of small, second-grade oranges. "Sorry, I don't know the price." She phoned up some poor sap in the fruit section and, as she manually keyed in the correct amount, the bag split open and thirty citrus balls malevolently made a roll for it along the counter, under the floor by the baskets and over towards the oldies bench.

Check out chick's face remained utterly unmoved by my plight, her arms 
clamped to their sides in loyal adherence to the unwritten code of Care-Less Customer Service. 

One orange was left where it landed because even my ET-length fingers couldn't reach it beneath the 'Action' shelf fronting Aisle Five, 'Les produits de nettoyage.'

Dust bunnies were now on both knees, my face was red - geez my nose was stinging, probably got some dirt rubbed in it - and she held out her hand, wordlessly. Ah yes - the dumb English speaker was now required to hand over her store card. This dumb English speaker did so and even though I dearly wished to swish off with a smidge of self righteousness the lino floor nearly came up to meet me - my stupid shoelace had become caught in the back wheel of the trolley.

Hoppity hoppity hopping over to the oldies bench, the trolley had to be rolled back and forth like a tired parent with a new-born in a pram until the filthy circle was rotated enough to release my now-black shoe lace. 

Back in the underground car park of our building pushing two fully-laden nanna carts towards the lift, I saw an elderly neighbour from the sixth floor slowly and creakily emerge from his old beamer. I lingered so that the door could be held open for him and wondered how he'd usually manage on his own with a bag of shopping and a cane.

"Merci Madame!"

He's a nice old bloke. Whenever he sees Milly in the foyer, he always makes a big deal of her; ruffling her ears and showering her with lovely-sounding French sweet nothings as her tail thonks adoringly against the fake wood-lined walls.  A rebel too, as he’s the only person in our building with a novelty door mat. A basset hound wearing sneakers.

I pressed Number Six for him and Number Eight for me. He doesn't speak English so we both smiled politely and pointed at our respective purchases. "Supermarche?" "Oui."

When we reached six, he hobbled towards the three-segment silver door that slid open to reveal another saloon-style door. This is very heavy and cumbersome to open at the best of times and must feel like a fortified drawbridge during a siege for this old man. I instinctively leaned out from behind Nanna Cart One to push it open with my leg, but what emerged with the movement of the door was a short sharp and loud duck-quack fart.

“AU REVOIR!” Here’s hoping that my enthusiastic farewell disguised the flatulence faux pas.

After unpacking the groceries, taking Milly downstairs for a wee and checking emails, I showed Sapphire what I hoped would tempt her for lunch.

A measly packet of spring rolls. Stingy sized, vegetarian and on sale. Five francs. Asian-style food is not particularly well done here, but they’re savoury: not bread or poxy potato.

“Thanks Mum,” she said, hugging me. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Guilt, love, concern, frustration, tears, annoyance, worry, affection, amazement, tiredness, irritation, anxiety, warmth and utterly sick of waiting for results. I hugged her right back.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Just bite

It was 27C today and the warm haze that hung over the Jura mountains reminded me of a hot January in Adelaide until turning the other direction showed the jagged, snow-covered pyramid of Mont Blanc looming over the lake.

Milly scampered like a puppy through the overgrown grass and weeds at the top of Parc de Trembley and deigned to acknowledge her ardent suitor, Marlowe, as he ran ahead of her, conveniently flattening the greenery so that it would not flick in his girlfriend’s face.

Sapphire decided to have one more day of rest at home after spending the week recovering from what the doctor thinks was gastro. Echoes of the run-around, worry, expense and time away from school and friends that she endured last year hung unspoken in the air but for it to occur without warning the morning after I made a slap dash stir fry from frozen prawns was surely no coincidence.

With instructions to check her temperature three times a day – via the armpit and the arse – the first few attempts ended up with us both doubled up with laughter in her retro bathroom.

The next few found that the electronic thermometer mysteriously switched itself off whilst ensconced in that oh so soft and special place and we laughed again at how we’d wasted five minutes of stilted conversation in an effort to forget about what was placed where and how it’d have to be done again.

Despite these indignities, all signs have been pointing to normal and plans are afoot to resume intake of sweet foods and rice as well as a triumphant return to school tomorrow.

This was part of the news I shared with my best friend who was talking to me from Australia. In different hemispheres, seasons and time zones, we sat in our respective living rooms and talked of our children, her husband’s brand new PhD, Christmas 2012 and the latest series of Survivor. The warmth and humour of her voice flowed through the ear piece as I slurped my coffee; for the thousandth time thankful for the free calls to Oz that Love Chunks had negotiated.

Dog fed and humans freshly showered, it was time for the Day of Rest to start. However it was no surprise that Sapphire wasn’t overly keen on joining her father and myself as we ventured across the border into Divonne les Bains, France for a fresh oyster and crab platter shared with some lovely English friends. Standing under a hot tent ripe with fish-pong was not her first choice of ways to spend the afternoon.

“I’ve got homework to do,” she said, hugging me even tighter than usual. “And because you and Dad found me that wireless speaker yesterday I might even dance while no-one’s at home.”

“Go for it kiddo,” I said, reaching for the keys. Pointing my finger at Milly, who sat with her tail wagging slowly, having figured out that she was not accompanying us, I said, “And you need to be a good dog and look after Sapphire for us, okay?”

“Geez Mum do you have to say that every time.... It wasn’t that funny the first time....”

At Divonne we found a car park in surprisingly quick time as the locals seemed keener on getting in the lake for a swim than scouring the markets for late specials on prosciutto and goat cheese.

Gianna knew what to ask for. The rest of us stood back as the Italian-raised, French-speaking Londoner spoke fluently enough that the stall holder came over later for more conversation. Two huge steel platters of Brittany oysters, Spanish crab legs and prawns on shaved ice arrived, all to be washed down with humble bottles of icy cold white wine.

We stood at a water and prawn-juice-sticky table right next to the gushing stream, brushed occasionally by other punters strolling past with their own platters, enjoying the sunshine. Today was the day I was finally converted to peeling a King Prawn and savouring the fruits of my labours. Friends, food, weather and location all equated to perfection.

Walking back to our cars, the greengrocer was packing up for the day and keen to offload her crate of plum-sized cherries. She filled our brown paper bags to bursting and then shoved more into our hands. “Take them,” she urged.

Hearing my Aussie drawl she said, “We sell Australian cherries at Christmas time but they are not ..... erm they are not so big and are not so sweet.”

How could they be, as recently-introduced interlopers in a country not designed to grow them? We shook her hand and thanked her for our generous load. Nearby, the patissier was also preparing to clean out his display case and both a lemon meringue and a caramel chocolate tarte found their way into another brown paper bag.

We farewelled our friends and, climbing into our hot car, LC and I remarked on our luck in meeting them; a chance thing when we were both out walking our dogs one morning last August.

When we got home, Milly was at the door with her tail wagging madly and Sapphire was in the middle of making her own lateish lunch. We hugged again and talked of a few new holiday ideas for the upcoming Summer break that LC and I had been discussing during the drive home. “Oooh yes, that sounds great,” was the response as she bounced on tippy toes. Thirteen year olds don’t allow themselves to consciously bounce on tippy toes unless it’s something really, really uncontrollably good.

I grabbed her again for another hug. She lingered too, understanding why I was extra clingy today.

My best friend had rung me this morning to share news other than reality TV updates and Christmas plans. An eighteen year old son is in hospital, fighting for his life. 

How do I show my sorrow and horror and sympathy for a family so far away? My clumsy but immediate response was to simply enjoy every single moment of today which might seem rather ironic or even disrespectful coming from someone who wasn’t so sure she wanted to continue herself a few years back. She sure as hell does now though, and is happy to admit that she often busts a gut trying.

There’s no sense to be made or answer to be gained from why this is happening to an eighteen year old, none at all.  Just bite every cherry and breathe in every hug.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


 there was this Aussie Sheila living in Switzerland who was Skyping with Lars from Norway about writing his press release for the United States market and as they were chatting she heard her email alert go 'ping' and surreptitiously read in the lower corner of the screen that the Texan bloke she'd sent an application to earlier has decided that yes, he wants her to edit his chapters on China

which is far more exciting than wasting any energy trying to think up something socially acceptable and exciting to eat when her husband brings home some overseas guests who are working with him in Geneva for the week and how she's already used up her 'go to' mid-week dishes of fondue, chicken salad and home made pizza which these guys have eaten at least twice before but maybe she can dazzle them with a cheese platter and chocolate-oriented dessert and get Love Chunks to magic up something in between. Yep, that'll do

and she's also wondering about how on earth she'll leave instructions for the English people who'll be staying in her house for a few weeks looking after the Jack Russell - Corgi cross and will most definitely need clear, written-down instructions on

1) the intricacies involved in operating the German washing machine that has a leaflet printed only in French and Italian and a tendency to leak (the machine, not the brochure) water from the detergent compartment in the lid all over the just-spun clothes in the sideways barrel; and

2) some further advice on why the Japanese-made TV, DVD player and Naxoo cable box need a trio of remotes and seem to take longer to warm up than a 1970s oil heater; as well as

3) a map and compass to the mysteriously-hidden rubbish room for all items that can not be compacted into a shoebox-sized lump to squash into the litter chute

but it's time to farewell the Norwegian and respond to the Texan before clicking over to the Australian embassy to figure out how to renew Sapphire's 'minor' passport when one page says it can be done via mail and the other says that an appointment must be made but only by telephoning between 9am and midday and of course it's now 1pm

and as she sighs and realise this, the door bell buzzes which causes Milly to leap up out of her bed and bark wildly in the vague direction of the lobby. Why she reacts this way when other sounds such as the neighbour's Persian cat meowing or the sirens of the ambulances all-too-regularly ferrying fat foreign blokes with heart attacks to hospital is a mystery but Anne the New Zealander has come in with some reasonably fresh tabloid magazines from her friend and so the DeLonghi is switched on so that they can sip Brazilian coffee overlooking the high school next door who are running a Sports Day that is featuring loudly amplified Indian techno music to spur the athletes on in their rather short races along the basketball courts and back

after the Kiwi leaves she takes the dog downstairs for a sniff and a wee amongst the forest set aside for just this purpose but Milly spies two squirrels up the oak tree and circles it continuously, ignoring her owner's please to "do a whizz Mills, come on girl, it's POURING out here," remaining utterly fascinated by these quickly scurrying furry creatures that were not even dreamt of back in Melbourne as they leap so gracefully from branch to branch, taunting the excited dog many metres below

fifteen minutes later the dog leaves a big part of herself under the pine tree and has her stomach, legs and back wiped of rainwater and mud with a towel before travelling the eight floors upstairs and back inside the apartment, trotting obediently (now) towards the large blue pillow set up in the study specifically for her to snooze and fart while her owner sits, stretches and taps and (often) mutters or (occasionally) bursts into song

the piece she's writing for the asbestos removal expert in Arizona is going surprisingly well and can be interspersed with clicks on internet tabs to check on Japanese Shiba Inu pups on live cam, a Facebook conversation with a friend on holiday in Sardinia and thoughts on how to politely and successfully ask the family currently travelling through Tuscany if they'd like to look after a dog for two weeks

keyboard a clackin' which means she's on a roll which is therefore the perfect time to crack the foil of some chocolate, wind up the article and spend several hours searching and booking accommodation for her upcoming Germany trip that somehow also seems to have leaked into Austria and a smidge into France and is producing prices and hotel ratings so wildly varied that its best just to click 'book', close her eyes and hope that it all somehow gels together when the time comes to step off the train with wheelie case in hand, so

to stop worrying about how she might have potentially stuffed up a holiday that will see her visiting parents disappointed and her husband heart broken and daughter horrified, she writes a tentative email to a Scottish lady who currently lives in a 500 year old farmhouse just over the border and runs a Brocante featuring antique finds mostly from Denmark and Sweden to see if she knows of anyone who collects French cooking magazines from the 1950s because she found several in the recycle bin downstairs a few weeks ago and thought that surely they'd be worth something

Sapphire won't be happy about it though because she's into all things retro and as they walked through the bomb shelter on the way to their underground car park, commenting yet again on how funny it was to have the famously neutral Swiss leaders still decide that that these were mandatory in all residential buildings she saw their concierge Monsieur Frattiani in the distance, ready to climb aboard his mini tractor.

"Bonjour Monsieur Frattiani," she called out, always keen to keep her amicable relationship with him - hard earned as it was - extremely cordial.

"Bonjour Madame. Comment ca va?" How are you.

"Merci," she replied. Thank you.

He shook his head and laughed at the ignorant Australian and her daughter shook her head in disgust.

All the Aussie sheila can say in her defence is that her brain was full.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It goes all the way up to eleven

Today I was tagged by River, who writes over at Drifting through life, to follow this meme and pass it on. The idea is for me to answer the eleven questions set by River then make up eleven new questions and tag eleven new people to answer them. They in turn would do the same and so it would go on.

'Practical or fanciful with your answers? That's up to you,' she says. I think it goes without saying that mine will mostly be fanciful with practicality used like Worcestershire sauce - just an occasional splash.

1. You're taking a three month holiday, no expenses spared. Do you cruise the oceans or fly the skies?

Fly the skies. On a first class, around-the-world ticket. Stop overs will include - but not be limited to - New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai and a rest in Port Douglas afterwards.

2. If you could ask God for one world-wide miracle, what would it be?

At first I thought, 'Oh, that's easy. World peace. Done deal,' but then considered that if people are still starving or dying of diseases that we have the money and ability to cure (yes, I'm looking at you, Malaria), then, because we're allowed only the one miracle, I'll choose the eradication of poverty so that everyone can afford the essentials. And luxuries too.

3. Would you choose sky diving or deep sea diving? (why?)

Sky diving. Did it in 1989 on my own (no tandem girly stuff for me) and would happily do it again. Exhilarating and unforgettable. Being stuck in the water breathing through a tube and risking contracting something as terrifying as the bends or seeing my chubby, sweet-fleshed body receive an unwanted visit from a shark with a case of the munchies does not appeal. Watching a David Attenborough-narrated DVD on the wonders of the reef from the safety of my sofa will suffice.

4. Would you choose having your wishes granted or having the power to grant wishes?

Having my wishes granted. Selfish perhaps, but if you could only grant the wishes of others, what if they were tragically awful ones and made life worse for your loved ones and/or humanity and the planet in general? Besides, as Carrie Fisher said in 'When Harry Met Sally', everyone thinks that they have great taste and a sense of humour but that can't possibly be true. I'd rather risk my own than, say, Andrew Bolt, any one from the cast of British semi-reality TV or litter bugs.

5. If you could pick a song to be a world anthem, what would it be?

Oooooh that's a tough one because, sitting here on a Sunday morning needing a second coffee, I've come up with three. Bear in mind, they're likely to change if you'd asked me later on this afternoon, or tomorrow, or by next weekend, but here they are:

a) I can see clearly now by Johnny Nash - 'I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) sun-shiny day.'

b) Turn turn turn by the Byrds - 'To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under Heaven'

c) And a slightly funny but cute one - 'Song for a future generation by the B52s - 'Hey, my name is Keith and I'm aScorpio from Athens, G-A and I like to find the essence from within
Wanna be the captain of the Enterprise
Wanna be the king of the Zulus
Let's meet and have a baby now!'

6. Do you dream in black and white or colour?

Colour when it's a weird-but-not-scary dream or one that's a fantasy or slightly annoying. True nightmares - that usually see me wake up with a migraine - are in black and white; as are those that occur when I'm already ill or with a fever. Black clouds appear on the ceiling above me, getting darker and darker and closer and closer....

Love Chunks, Sapphire and Milly are always in full technicolour.

7. Three-course meals or one-pot dinners?

If cooked by someone else - two courses. I find that an entree and main means that dessert can't be contemplated, so if we're out I'll read the dessert part of the menu first to see if it's worth skipping the starters for.

Home - any course cooked by Love Chunks or Sapphire.

Home - anything cooked by me has to, as part of the Kath Lockett Cooking Code - be a One Pot. Slopped into large bowls and inhaled without conscious appreciation in front of the telly.

8. Do you menu plan, shop for two weeks worth of ingredients, then serve up toast and jam for dinner?

Unlike the Swiss, I do a big shop every week. Skipping off the tram clutching one paper bag with a baguette, 12 pack of bog rolls and jamon every damn day isn't my style as Migros supermarket is a place where the less time is spent the better.

9. Do you dye your hair a totally different colour from what nature intended?

Nah. Blondies like me can only lighten up or have streaks put in. Anything darker or weirder would just highlight the fact that I have no eyebrows and possess lashes even harder to see than those of my dog.

10. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

Port Douglas when finances are firmed up. Love Chunks can get the boat he's dreamed of and I'll write a novel in a louvred-study overlooking the sea. Otherwise, a well-funded stint in London or New York wouldn't be too hard to bear.

11. Do you change your home decor to suit the seasons or do you just leave things as they are year in year out?

Leave 'em where they are. They may occasionally - very, very occasionally - get moved slightly in order to get the vacuum nozzle underneath, but only when the dust bunnies have bred so much that they're spilling out beyond the boundaries that usually hide them. I may sometimes go nuts and add a new cushion cover or a throw rug but, for me, rooms are for comfort, not magazine layouts

Now I have to think up eleven new questions and ask other bloggers to answer them.

Firstly, the bloggers:

The Plastic Mancunian

Diane b - Adventure before Dementia

Jackie K - Keep working through it

Princess Pandora Behr

The Swiss Family Gustafson

Lad Litter

CatJB at Just this side of chaos

Elephant's Child

Blogger on the cast-iron balcony

Deep Kick Girl

Hannah - Wayfaring Chocolate

Now, the questions:

1. When and why did you start blogging?

2. What is your middle name and why did your parents select it?

3. Toilet paper folder or scruncher? Provide your reasons

4. What do you do at home when everyone else is out?

5. You've been given five hundred bucks (two hundred and fifty quid, say) to spend on nothing useful and just your self. What do you do with the cash?

6. It's finally come true. One of your 'five celebrities you're allowed to sleep with' has walked into your kitchen and is up for it. Who is it?

7. Name one famous person (so that all our readers know who it is) that you think 'has their shit together'. Explain why.

8. What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

9. Who would you like to smack in the face, publicly disprove all of their stupid opinions and freeze their bank accounts?

10. Low slung jeans on boys - how do we eradicate this disease?

11. Tell us about an invention for the home that we desperately need.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Thirty Five on Ninth

The door bell rang at 5:30pm.

"Who could that be?" asked Sapphire, as all her friends 'visited' by email, SMS, facebook and Skype during week nights.

It couldn't be Love Chunks as he never loses his keys and was never home at such an early hour.

Maybe it was Anne, the Kiwi maternity nurse from the 1st floor who very kindly passed on the trashy English gossip mags that her friend passed on to her that I then pass on to someone else.

Nope.  It was a tall elderly gentleman, holding a newspaper, some letters and a small bag of shopping.

"Excuse me madame," he said in perfect but heavily-accented English, "Is this the ninth floor?"

"Sorry no, monsieur," I replied.  You're one floor out. It's upstairs."

"Where are the stairs?"  He looked unsteady on his feet and confused.

"I'll be back in a tic," I called out to Sapphire as I grabbed my keys and shut the door. "Let me take you."

I followed him up the stairs, deciding that if he slipped on the fancy marble I might be some kind of pudgy cushion that would soften the impact.  Gripping the handrail tightly with the plastic bag swinging against the wall, progress was slow.  Once on the ninth he said, "I live up here and have done so for over thirty five years."

My polite smile faded: now it was my turn to look confused.  I know all the neighbours directly above us, and had never seen or heard of my this tall old bloke before.

"Are you sure it's the right building?  There are five here and every third floor allows us to move between them and what with the lifts being repaired one after the other, it always means that one of them is out of action and...."  my voice trailed off when it seemed pretty obvious that my inane Aussie-accented chatter was too much to comprehend at such a puzzling time.

I reached for his bag of shopping and mail.  "Let me take those."  He handed them over, appreciating the time to stop and think for a bit.

"Madame, I'm in 18A."

"Ah, we'll you've found yourself in 20A.  Your lift is out of action this week, so you had to take ours and walk through, you see and our floor - the eighth - is one of those connecting floors."

He clearly didn't see.  "Let me take you," I said, for the second time that day.

The connecting doors were locked.  "Sorry monsieur, but we'll actually have to walk outside to the very front entrance, use the lift in Building 18 and walk through from the other side."

His dark winter coat covering a rather posh-looking fine wool jumper and tailored business shirt seemed far too much for a 25C day, yet it was me that felt under-dressed in my grubby jeans, black rubber thongs and mens' t-shirt.

"Do you mind if I read the letter boxes in the foyer first?"  Of course I didn't mind.  His walk was getting progressively slower now and he tottered uncertainly over to the wall lined with shiny stainless steel boxes.  "Ah yes, there I am.  Ninth floor."

In the lift we formally introduced ourselves.  He was a long-retired Director from the UN's International Labor Organisation and a native of Cyprus. "We helped a lot of our people get work and homes in your country," he said, "More than anywhere else, in fact."

On the ninth floor, we both peered at the tiny label under the door bell.  Yes, this was the right place.  Still holding his gear, I waited, wanting to make sure that he could open his door and that nothing - I wasn't entirely sure what - awful was lurking inside.

He didn't invite me in, but for some reason I followed.  His apartment was decorated in the cloying baroque style beloved of far wealthier - and much older - people. It was impeccably clean with flocked wall paper, brocade arm chairs and every French-polished surface was covered in silver framed photographs of family members.  He saw where my gaze had travelled to.  "My daughter now lives in Paris and my son is in Istanbul.  My grand kids are scattered all over the world; at colleges in the US, working in Britain, travelling through Asia and my four great grandchild was born last month in Malta...."

There was a note pad and pen by the living room door and I hastily scrawled my name, address and phone number on it.  "Monsieur, this is just in case you ever get lost, or need anything from the shops or, just, er need some help."

He peered at it before slipping it into his coat pocket.  "I have a housekeeper who does all that for me since my wife passed a year ago, but thank you all the same."

"No worries," I said, before realising how strongly Aussie and incomprehensible that must have sounded. Looking towards the living room window to the Jura mountains on the right and France straight ahead I realised that the size and room structure of our apartments were identical, as was the view outside.

"I like watching the planes come in," he said, gesturing to the sofa. "I often sit there and see if I can tell who they are."

"Me too," I nodded.

He took my little note out of his pocket and looked at it again. "I've lived here for over thirty five years."  His voice was now whisper quiet.

Muttering more inanities that basically encouraged him to call me any time, I closed the door behind me, my last glimpse of him sitting on the sofa looking up at the sky, criss-crossed with aeroplane vapor trails.

He's been disoriented a couple more times since then, both on my floor and the one above.  His family are going to have to travel over, get together and make a few inevitable decisions soon.  Ageing is cruel and often lonely and, sadly, out of our control.  No-one deserves to be lost after a lifetime.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Genevan gems

Thanks to the Sunday afternoon 'blahs' being eradicated by the inspiration of River, I've decided to play Sunday Selections this week.

River's a good blogger who does this every Sunday whereas I do it when I damn well feel like it. A bit like blogging itself really.  Sunday Selections is a time to post up photos that you haven't used before that deserve their own time for viewing in cyberspace.  The original idea came from Kim at Frog Ponds Rock who realised that she takes many more photos than she uses, and wanted to show them off. 

River usually selects a theme, so I've decided to borrow that too and have labelled mine 'Found Objects,' or stuff I've snaffled at French-Suisse flea markets, second-hand shops and the street.

I love these little stainless steel guys.  They're Swiss-made, dacshund knife rests.  Usually sold in sets of six, but I only had fifteen francs and wanted one each to represent the three human beings in the household. These are just for sitting on the bookshelf, not to have cutlery resting on their backs.  Yesterday I saw a similar set but they were modelled on retrievers and didn't look quite so fetching.

Love Chunks' Columbia jacket.  A second-hand find from Emmaus: a used clothing, furniture and book shop that opens at 1:30pm weekdays to a crowd of at least 50 people waiting for the doors to be unlocked. This unworn $399 jacket cost me 25 francs and saw LC very comfortably through the Big  Freeze of February 2012 and skiing in Wengen.

I'm a sucker for a quirky - and preferably old - tin. Some sort of bike parts but the name is what did it for me: Dissoplast.  These days it would mean some form of personal insult "She applied the dissoplast treatment on you man, and you lost!"

Edgeworth pipe tobacco. Love the lettering and the colours. Maybe I was ripped off at paying seven euros, but I liked it.

My other Emmaus bargain - an Esprit unisex black coat that was still available brand new in their shops at the time of shelling out 20 francs for this one.  Retail price 299 Swiss francs.  A quick swim in our washing machine and it became a handy jacket that I rarely took off over autumn and winter and am likely to do so again this year and the next.

His Masters Voice tin, barely two centimetres wide. "Oh," Sapphire said, "Is that what HMV shops stand for?"

And inside were spare gramophone needles, still covered in delicate tissue paper.  Five francs!

Sapphire discovered Paul Klee during our visit to Basel late last year when I set the alarms off due to my not-inconsiderably-sized schnozz leaning in too close to some of his works. Why not get a book of his sketches and prints for five francs?

Why not indeed. The next plan is to find some cheap and unusual second hand photo frames to put her favourite ones in.

I prefer coffee over tea and have never owned a teapot whose spout did not dribble everywhere but in the cup, but this pewter beauty was sitting in a 500 year old French farmhouse being used for a brocante for the day.

It was mine for twelve euros.

To drugs now and Geneva was telling patients with mouth infections to Sod Off - sorry, Socop and make their lives slightly more bearable by mixing borax and menthol with Cocaine.

...... even my daschunds showed an interest.

Or there's Sod Right Off - no, sorry, Sodri pastilles, also locally-made.  Just a nice coloured tin really. Both cost five francs each.

Walking to the park with Sapphire recently, we spotted this chair at the front of our building on the day before Hard Rubbish Collection.  Usually there's a sadly unattractive selection of broken CD racks, sofa beds clearly past their prime (and covered in grime) and busted booster seats.  With a quick glance right and left, we retraced our steps and adopted the chair.  It clearly needs a rub down and a new coat of varnish but for right now it does perfectly well accommodating an extra person at the table during dinner parties.

Finally, a public confession to my best friend and husband of many years, beautiful, brainy and brawny Love Chunks.  Several weeks ago, I was brocanting with Robyn (a woman who possesses the unparalleled skill of being able to find the solid silver 19thC treasure hidden amongst a box of mouldy shoes and mosaic trays) and Jenne (an artist who is drawn to jugs and plates) and found this sewing table thingy:

"Combien monsieur?"

Eighty francs.  

No way. I was happy to walk off, having found out many times previously that Swiss stall holders don't haggle like they do on BBCs 'Put your money where your mouth is.'

Surprisingly he called me back. "Madame, Madame!  Soixante (60) francs."

Nah buddy. 

Madame - let me speak to my boss.  He gestured me over.  Robyn and Jenne were intrigued too and we walked slowly back to the stall.

The boss was snoring loudly on an ancient banana lounge set up in the back of his panel van, head tipped back so that his nose hairs blew gently in and out, in and out with each breath.  He didn't take too kindly to his young assistant shaking him awake and seeing three mature women staring at him with poorly disguised amusement.

He grunted something and rolled back to sleep.

Forty francs?

YES.  I then spent the next couple of hours lugging the thing about the markets like a supermodel's handbag.  Things evened out when both my companions ended up with copper bed warmers not unlike the one I found for LC last year.

We climbed aboard the tram with copper lids a clangin' and my drawers a squeakin'.  Add the clatter of some china dishes packed in plastic bags and the metal tinkle of some small bits of cutlery and we had the capability of providing the percussion for the solo accordian player busy busking at the other end of the tram.

The plan is to give this sewing table thingy a good clean, add a generous layer or two of furniture wax and have it in our living room. 

No, not as a sewing aid - I failed the sewing elective in Home Ec in year nine and haven't learned a single extra mending skill since.  No, this little beauty could perhaps offer a different selection of chocolate bars in each drawer?