A year in Geneva

Standard

22 February 2015 was my one year anniversary of moving to Geneva. I celebrated this by trudging through the slushy snow to go to work (yup that was on a Saturday but don’t worry I don’t make a habit of it) and later I met up with a friend for a drink. I forgot to spend any time reflecting on the momentousness of the occasion as I experienced a pretty normal day without spectacle. So I’m using this week’s blog post to consider what failed to register at that time and offer a retrospective on my year in Geneva.

When I first moved here this city seemed so strange and alien to me, so far from ‘normal’ life that for my first few days, well probably first six months actually, I was constantly noting the passage of time and questioning whether coming here was the right move or not. (Parlez-vous franglais per favore, mein leiber dich?)

My first few months, when it was just me, whilst my fiancé tied up loose ends in the UK and prepared to join me, was quite an intense experience. I lost quite a lot of weight through a combination of discovering meat was too expensive to eat and going running most evenings, not because I’m an exercise freak but because I had nothing better to do. In my first flat I didn’t have television or radio so most evenings were spent watching a DVD on the laptop, reading, running and an early night. (“Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”)

I strove to make friends and discovered this was a pretty exhausting process when driven by compulsion. If I stopped to think about it I have to admit I was pretty lonely and I needed some friends in the flesh, although was grateful to remain in contact with those friends I’d left behind. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder)

But it started to pay off and relationships that maybe had to be forced a bit in the early stages developed into something more genuine and I’ve met some very cool people. Although some of these I’ve also had to say goodbye to as their expat adventures have taken them elsewhere. And that hasn’t been easy but the great experiences we’ve shared more than make up for my sadness at their departure. (An expat among expats)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found a lovely flat in an area I really like that suits me well. It is close enough to walk to the centre of Geneva but enough out of town to be pretty quiet and it borders on some truly beautiful woodlands along the river Rhone. We navigated arrangements, which were surprisingly straightforward, for the cats to fly out to join me, travelling as cabin baggage from the UK to Switzerland. I had no idea that animals could even travel in the cabin on flights, probably because you can’t do this coming into the UK, but it was a pretty easy process. And with the cats and then our UK life shipped out to me in boxes, my new abode started to feel more familiar. Normality was creeping up on me, gradually seeping into the day-to-day.

I had a period of illness when I felt completely sorry for myself, nothing serious but a flaring up of multiple minor ailments that I was left to fend to myself. Nothing is worse than feeling a bit grotty and not having anyone to complain to about it (that can’t escape from the whinging by just hanging up the phone). I also didn’t understand how the health system worked, but fearing the financial cost of seeing a Doctor I potentially couldn’t communicate with decided to stick with home remedies and sweat it out. Literally. (Why I’m not great with doctors)

I now had the cats for company but Jasper chose this moment to develop an infected abscess and force me to figure out how vets work. However, having someone else’s needs to focus on stopped me from indulging in so much self-sympathy. And not needing a loan to pay for his vet’s fees was a pleasant surprise! (The forlornest looking lampshade)

Jasper lampshadeEventually the fiancé came out too and my world started to right itself a little bit more, although his being there after several months of living apart did take a bit of adjusting to. (The arrival of the fiancé!)

We settled into a bit of a routine, disrupted by a few trips back to the UK including for my best friend’s amazing wedding. (The art of public speaking) And also a trip to Portugal for another great wedding. (Strangers are friends you haven’t yet met) I’d work, he’d job hunt, keep the flat in good working order and cook for me when I got home. I definitely got the better end of the deal.

His job hunting has been a bit frustrating with nothing resulting in paid employment to date but we’ve scraped by on my salary, and spent a lot of time speculating on how great it’ll be when he’s working and we can buy this, go there and enjoy that. A bit like playing the game of ‘when I win the lottery’ just with better odds. Even on a budget though, we still managed to try some fun new things. (The fears we all share)

Christmas and New Years were spent in Geneva. We had a nice time with great friends on those days and enjoyed a leisurely period of blissful nothingness for the days in between. I’d thought it would be weird to have such a friends and family-lite Christmas but actually it was really relaxing not rushing around like lunatics trying to see everyone, and after quite a disruptive year it was easy to appreciate a bit of quiet time. (Going somewhere nice for Christmas? Well, bully for you!)

This year, has felt a bit strange with personal challenges and exciting work opportunities but these have been absorbed into the new normalcy of life in Geneva. (Resolving on a great 2015, The tedium/tremendousness of travelling for work) I’m not quite settled here yet and don’t think I will be until the man finds a job and can start to find his own way to a regular life here. But the fact that my year’s anniversary here was so unremarkable is a good sign. It doesn’t feel quite like ‘home’ yet but it doesn’t feel like another planet anymore either.

Advertisements

Chaos on Ice

Standard

Last week I had decided that much as I’d like to be able to jump, twirl and triple toe-loop (whatever that actually is) on the ice it would probably be sensible to try and master the basics first. Like being able to stop without having to a) crash into the barrier or b) wait almost an entire circuit and hope to slow down naturally by the exit. So, in preparation for my skate this week I watched a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating how to come to a timely standstill. When on more stable ground, for example whilst waiting for the kettle to boil for one of my ten cups of tea of the day, I would take the opportunity to practice the footwork I’d seen in the videos.

This week is school holidays in Geneva so I was a bit concerned that the rink would be overrun with kids. It’s not that I’m violently opposed to children or even peacefully resistant to them it’s just that I like skating best when I have a bit of space to do my own thing, so that I can practice stopping and starting and turning without worrying that I’m going to collide with someone.

But my trepidations about too many children on the ice initially seemed unfounded, when I turned up there were only a handful of people already skating and although there were maybe more family groups than usual, the holidays didn’t seem to be having much of an impact on numbers. I did a few warm-up laps and then set about trying to practice stopping. What had seemed easy in the kitchen was a lot harder to master on the ice but I noticed some improvement after twenty minutes or so of putting in the practice.

The decision to work on my stopping abilities proved fortuitous as just as I was thinking I’d put in enough training for the day and should just enjoy my last ten minutes or so whizzing and slaloming about the rink, suddenly all the kids in Geneva turned up.

Kids entering the ice - bp imageAt first I noticed a line of bobble hatted heads snaking their way towards the rink entrance and then a steady stream of children of about seven or eight tumbled onto the ice and bedlam ensued. Bunched up at the one entry point they jostled and stumbled their way on and then fanned out in a widening arc of absolute madness.

If there aren’t many people on the ice you can do what you like and skate in any direction but if it’s a little bit busy everyone is meant to go in an anti-clockwise direction to minimise risk of injury. However, the guys supervising that session didn’t even bother to try and enforce this rule; sensibly concluding no doubt that trying to direct that many people would be like herding cats.

So when I said all the kids in Geneva that may have been a tiny exaggeration but there were about 200 hundred of them slipping and sliding in every direction as the rink transformed into an obstacle course. (Thus providing an excellent opportunity to practice my turning skills and new-found ability to stop.)

It’s hard to convey exactly what the effect of this sudden influx of little humans was like but I’ll try. Imagine that you were pleasantly enjoying the calm environment of an art gallery, or shopping or any activity you like where you are on your feet in an enclosed space and suddenly 200 cats in roller skates all emerge through the front door.

These little furry balls of insanity are suddenly everywhere and loudly caterwauling their surprise at the unfamiliar setting they have suddenly found themselves in. They are not moving in a coordinated fashion, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to why they would go in a certain direction, some of them move tentatively because of the little shoes with wheels someone has taken the time to attach to their feet, some more eager to get away than others and with slightly better balance manage to speed along pretty quickly, they fall over themselves and others frequently.

You might think well I was here first and I can still enjoy my art/shopping/whatever if I just move at a sedate person and take care not to step on all the little creatures. After a brief time you will reasonably conclude it is slightly less fun and slightly more dangerous than before and think maybe you will just leave. However, as you try to make your way to the exit you discover you can’t actually get out because these critters with wheels are still bursting through the opening. You will be forced to pretend you didn’t actually want to leave just yet anyway and take a few more turns about the building until you can spot enough of a gap to force your way through.

I was glad that the kids didn’t arrive until towards the end of my session so that rather than being frustrated by the inconvenience I could actually take a detached view of the scene and enjoy the sensation of that sudden and unexpected transition from carefree skating to hopscotching over living hurdles. I thought that this could make a really lovely painting: rosy-cheeked, lively children in brightly-coloured padded winter wear, making their arms and legs stick out at unnatural angles, enjoying themselves on the ice. A real artist could capture the vibrancy and chaos of the scene, but you’ll have to make do with my computer art.

An appetite to appreciate anomalies

Standard

I read with interest the news story of the three young students (two Dutch and one British) who on finding themselves stranded in Turkey for eight days, survived by eating insects. I thought the piece was interesting not for the regaling of the student’s survival plight but that the headline focus on insect-eating implied this was the real shocker of the incident.

One thing I’ve never been afraid of is trying new foods. I remember my parents being impressed enough to tell all their friends (one of whom’s children had spent several years only eating baked beans, smash and chocolate mousse) that I had eaten squid kebab whilst on a family holiday, when I must have been about eleven or twelve. To me it wasn’t that big a deal but after that I probably reveled in and strove to live up to my reputation as a gastronomic dare-devil.

Like most people I do judge edibles on how they look and allow appearances to affect what I think of certain questionable foodstuffs, but preconceptions wont stop me from trying these. So I’ve never really understood why people are squeamish about eating certain things.

Capture d’écran 2015-01-22 à 16.45.30When I was in Cambodia in the summer of 2013 (gosh, that sounds so much longer ago now that it’s 2015), the guidebook I read in advance informed me that fried tarantulas were a common snack and that insects were often on the menu. The though of eating creepy-crawlies was definitely a bit weird, and still is, but I’m not really sure why.

Yes, they are a bit gross to look at with sticky-out eyes, feelers and too many legs but prawns are just as disgusting and have you ever really looked as a mussel as you are eating it? Yet these sea-insects, if you will, are eaten by many who would be horrified by the thought of eating crispy noodles with red tree ants or a nice bowl of fried crickets.

Eating bugs is definitively a cultural thing and I suppose that because, unlike prawns and mussels, they are so readily available in the dirt around us this makes them less desirable in the way that caviar is probably valued more for its seeming rarity. Eating insects is also often associated with poverty and starvation and that might be where part of our preconceived distaste comes from.

Generally my food-philosophy is to try anything once and I wouldn’t automatically turn my nose up at any local cuisine whether that’s frog’s legs in France, black pudding (congealed pig’s blood) in England, paella with prawns and mussels in Spain, fried tarantulas and snake in Cambodia, Chicken’s feet in China or a Matcha Green Tea Latte in Geneva.

I’m not committing to liking these things but I’m definitely willing to have a go. Actually all of those items above I have tried (although not necessarily in stated country) and the only thing I thought truly vile was the Green Tea Latte I ordered this week but even that I still managed to slurp down, albeit shuddering with every mouthful. I wont order that one again.

Capture d’écran 2015-01-23 à 16.28.57I’m often motivated to try new things by the fear of missing out on great opportunities if I shut myself off to these. And from experience I know that whilst every activity is not necessarily for me there have been things I’ve tried without enthusiasm that have positively astonished me. If I’m honest I find snorkeling too scary to actually appreciate. But volunteering to run sessions of a legal programme for teenagers, that I thought I would struggle with, I really enjoyed.

In the same way I wouldn’t want to miss out on cultural culinary opportunities that might amaze me. I like green tea but thought the green tea latte revolting. I am pathetic around living specimens but found fried arachnid legs rather tasty.

I love travelling, and hope to do a lot more of this, but what I really enjoy is attempting to get under the skin of a different culture to find out what makes people from that part of the world  tick and to think about how they live the lives they do. I know you can’t generalize whole people from brief visits to a place but you can at least try to get an understanding of certain similarities these people may share.

When I went to Thailand about a decade ago I saw fried locusts for sale in busy tourist areas but declined to try them, partly because I was less brave than I am now but mostly because I wasn’t convinced that this was something real Thai people ate. I thought the eating of locusts might have just been a touristy gimmick with locals snickering from alleyways at the foolish farang.

However in Cambodia, at a local party celebrating the official opening of one of our favourite hostels/bars, we were enjoying the cheaper-than-water-beer when out came steaming dishes of crispy once-jumping hexapods. As the Cambodians there started tucking in I recognized the legitimacy of the dish and knew I would have to participate. The locals watched us expats with interest to see how we would respond to the unfamiliar platter and their curiosity was amply rewarded by the looks on our faces as we braved the many-legged snacks. But actually, once we got over the strangeness of eating a food so foreign to us, we enjoyed these little critters, which a friend accurately described as meaty crisps.

I wonder if those stranded students came to like their bug-based diet, once they allowed hunger to overcome initial misgivings? More likely their having to eat insects as necessity impaired their ability to truly appreciate these. I hope their ordeal will not indefinitely put these young adventurers off from future expeditions and perhaps they will even have the occasion to sample some intriguing local cuisines prepared in more favourable circumstances.

Resolving on a great 2015

Standard

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” – Abraham Lincoln

So 2014 has drawn to a close and 2015 has begun! With the marking of another year’s passing there is a medley of resolutions to be made.

Generally, I want to improve my health. Specifically, I’d like to run a half marathon this year, not really because I think I’d enjoy running 22km but more because I think I’d enjoy telling people I’ve done this and because my best friend did one last year and I don’t want to be outdone! I also want to commit to ice-skating on a weekly basis (whilst the rink is open), to be able to stop without crashing into the sides and to be able to skate backwards.

This year I’m also going to work on the long-standing goal of being able to converse easily in another language, an aspiration that has become a tad more pressing since moving to a predominantly French speaking part of the world and realising my existing language skills are really sub-standard. By the end of 2015 I hope to be confident chatting to strangers in the language.

Finally I am resolved to start actually working on one of those books I’ve always wanted to write, to start undertaking some research, come up with character briefs and a developed plot outline and maybe even start writing it.

So there we go, my resolutions for 2015. As I’ve publicly shared them with you all do feel free to give me a nudge every now and then to remind me about these.

I love making New Year’s resolutions because I think it’s good to put a bit of pressure on myself at the start of each year to strive to do just a little bit better. I make resolutions every year, some I’ve kept and some I haven’t, a lot of them I can’t even remember.

From experience I’ve learnt that the more general the resolution (i.e. be healthy) the less likely I am to achieve that so I hope the specific goals I’ve set will be enough of a challenge to push myself a bit harder in certain areas but not so unobtainable as to be doomed to failure. If I tried to simply cut out a bad habit completely, i.e. consumption of chocolate, the chances are I’d smugly manage one or two days and then thoughts of the chocolate I’ve banned myself from ever having again will infiltrate every waking moment until I cannot take anymore and give in to a chocolate binge of Peter Jacksonesque epic proportions! Approaching my resolutions as goals to be achieved by the end of the year rather than behaviours to be instantly changed from 00:01, 1 January takes the pressure off a bit.

A lot of people are dismissive of New Year’s resolutions and I can understand why when we tend to make and break the same resolutions every year but nonetheless I think there’s something admirable in the whole process.

Whilst I think you can make life-changing decisions at any time of the year I think that New Year’s resolutions provide a natural kick-start to the process of self-improvement. There is something fresh and optimistic about the start of a new year, the closing of one year and looming blank canvas of the next. It’s the perfect time to take stock of where we are, to identify any aspects of our lives we might like to see changes in and to think about how we can attain these.

This year was a pretty eventful one for me. In trying to realise my career ambitions I moved country to start a new job and life abroad, away from family and friends. Thankfully my fiancé and cats have been able to share in the adventure with me, although granted the cats didn’t have much of a say in the matter. I’ve tried a number of new things (shooting, rope climbing, running 10km, book-club and ice-skating to name a few) and I’ve met a staggering number of amazing people. Was I expecting any of that at the start of 2014? Not at all. So it’s exciting to think what sort of things 2015 might have in store for me that I can’t even imagine yet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This year I had a really great Christmas with friends I didn’t even know last year and rounded 2014 off with a memorable night out on New Year’s Eve which was everything I could have hoped for and really ended the year with a bang (and not just from the fireworks).

Sadly the first day of 2015 wasn’t the optimistic start that I’d hoped for as we received the sad news that my fiancé’s grandfather had died. Whilst his passing wasn’t wholly unexpected, given his age and several underlying health problems, that didn’t make the news any less shocking or upsetting. The loss of this lovable rogue, who I will always remember with a smile on his lips and mischievous twinkle in his eye, has certainly taken the edge off my unbridled hopefulness for 2015 but it has also caused me to take stock of what, and who, really matters.

I remain optimistic for the year ahead and committed to my resolutions but I am more grateful than ever to have the love and support of a number of wonderful people in my life, who I know will make the realising of my personal aspirations that much easier. Whilst it feels good to be able to reel off a list of achievements each year my greatest ongoing resolution is to be the kind of person that can provide similar levels of love and encouragement to those I care about. Although if I can become a proficient skater in the process then so much the better.

L’escalade part 2

Standard

In many ways Geneva is a transitory place, with so many people coming and going, that it is hard to get a sense of this city’s unique identity. However, the city recently celebrated “l’escalade”, a tradition exclusive to Geneva that locals cling to and tourists flock to.

Eager to get an insight into what makes this town tick I signed up for another guided walk, this one unveiling the history behind the festivities.

L’escalade in a nutshell

Geneva had been a province of Savoy until the Protestant Reformation the previous century. L’escalade commemorates the night in 1602 when Geneva was attacked by the Duke of Savoy and his troops in a bid to reclaim the city. In the middle of the longest night of the year (then the 11-12th December) the Duke led 2,000 Savoyard troops, with blackened armour for stealth mode, silently towards the city for a surprise attack.

At that time Geneva was protected by two walls of fortifications that surrounded the city, and above the inner walls were a number of buildings containing homes and businesses. The soldiers planned to send an initial party of troops to climb the outer walls (escalade means to climb in French) and blow open the city’s outer gates from the inside, letting in the rest of the soldiers.

However a  sentry spotted the advance party and raised the alarm, alerting the city. Residents rose from their beds and, without having time to dress for the occasion, went out to face their foes in their night-wear.

18 Genevans lost their lives as a result of the attack but 67 Savoyard soldiers died and an army of 2,000 was repulsed by people in their bed clothes and, allegedly, a pot of soup.

As the attack was during a time of peace the captured soldiers were executed as robbers, rather than treated as prisoners of war. Their heads were placed on spikes at the entrances to the city to serve as a warning to any other would-be attackers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mère Royaume and her soup

There are a number of key figures that have become integral to the memorialisation of this event inluding Isaac Mercier (reacted quickly to drop the iron portcullis to the main gates preventing the advance party from being able to let in the other troops) and Dame Piaget (captured a group of soldiers by locking them between two gates of a walkway into the city).

But most famous of all is Mère Royaume and her soup. After breaching the outer-walls a number of troops tried to break into the inner part of the city through one of the internal gates, known as La Monnaie Gate (money was minted there), above which lived Mère Royaume and her family. She helped to repel the attackers by throwing a cauldron of soup (known as a marmite) down onto the soldiers below; scalding them with the contents, injuring them with the pan and contributing to the successful defence of the city.

An important part of today’s l’escalade celebrations involves the annual breaking of the marmite (a chocolate cauldron filled with marzipan sweets resembling vegetables), a 19th century commercialisation only made possible by the popularity of this unlikely hero. There are also numerous artworks dedicated to this woman and a public fountain, made from Savoy stone, where Mère Royaume is clearly identifiable. It’s fair to say, this Madam captured the public imagination.

20141211_16183320141211_172608

However the heroic actions of this integral character were probably more fiction than fact, as it was pretty unlikely she would have been cooking soup at 2am in the morning.

It’s interesting how legends can develop and become integrated into historical memory. Mére Royaume’s story, that must have been the mere whisper of a fable a few years after the attack, took on a life of it’s own to be adopted and incorporated into the very fabric of this heroic Genevan defence against the odds.

Legend-building is by no means solely a Genevan phenomenon (England has King Arthur, for example) and this idolising of heroes becomes the model of what it means to belong to a certain group. Legends can become something for people to hang the hat of their identity on and can be powerful enough to bind people together, enhance a sense of nationality and inspire loyalty to one’s neighbours.

Fact behind the fiction

Part of the celebrations involved a number of parades, the largest of which took place on the Sunday evening and involved around 1000 participants dressed in 16th century gear and processing through the old town of Geneva, stopping at key sites to recreate specific moments including Mére Royaume’s celebrated actions. There were also some geese, although I’m not sure what role they played in l’escalade – unless they were in the imaginary soup.

20141212_192719But there was also a smaller procession on the Friday evening to the church where the Genevans who had died during the attack were buried. At the Church a speech was given but it was hard to hear and my French remains negligible so I wasn’t really following it, until I realised that they were naming the dead and citing the ages at which they had died; some in their sixties, some in their twenties.

It was then that I remembered that whilst this annual event has evolved into legendary proportions the fact behind the fiction was that a horrible event happened to a peaceful city and resulted in unnecessary deaths. In the moment’s silence that followed the recital of names, I thought of the fear and confusion the inhabitants must have felt during the attack and of those ordinary men who lost their lives defending their families and home. I felt the tug of a very real history from 400 years ago pulling at me through all the trappings of the modern day revelry, I remembered the tragedy behind the traditions.

 

‘Twas the night’ – L’escalade Part 1

Standard
Twas the night of midwinter, when all through Geneva,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a beaver,
The washing all hung, by the chimney with care,
In hopes that come morning, dry clothes would be there,
The children were nestled, all safe in their beds,
While scents of hot soup, filled their sweet heads,
And Madame in her bonnet, apron in her lap,
Had just settled down, for a long winters nap,
When out on the walls, there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed, to see what was the matter.
Away to the window, I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash,
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of midday to object below,
When what to my wandering eyes should appear,
But enemy troops, in formidable gear,
With the Duke of Savoy, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment, this was a devilish trick.
In blackened armour, they scaled the walls,
As they clambered, and scrambled, and planned our downfall.
Now musketeer, now canoneer, now pikeman, now fusilier,
On scoundrel, on crook, on rascal, damned villains!
To the top of the outer wall, to the foot of the inner wall
Now dash-away, dash-away, and damned you all!
A sentry alerted that all is awry,
Having met with alarm, emits a loud cry,
But up to the money gate, the rapscallions they flew,
With an armoury full of weapons, and bad intent too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard from the gloom,
A rattling, and clattering from our little room,
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Away from the kitchen, Mère Royaume came with a bound.
She was dressed in night wear, from her head to her foot,
And her apron, tied round her, had remained put,
A cauldron of soup, she turned to with a knack,
And engaged in removing it from the hot rack,
Her eyes, how they darkened; her brows, how creased,
Her lips were drawn tight, her anger unceased,
Her bare little feet scuttled across the floor,
As she emerged from the kitchen door,
The lump of her pot, she held tight with gritted teeth,
And the steam it encircled her head like a wreath.
She had a broad face, and little beads of sweat,
From all the effort were making her wet,
She was determined and grim, a right angry old elf,
I started when I saw her, in spite of myself,
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread,
She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And from the window, her soup she upturned, with a jerk,
From the enemy below a cry soon arose,
Rising up through the night, we heard their woes,
The brigands at bay, burned by the soup, gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle,
But I heard Madame exclaim, as the enemy fled from sight,
“Happy Escalade to all, and to all a goodnight!”
© Courtesy of www.1602.ch
© Image courtesy of http://www.1602.ch

 


With credit to Clement Clarke Moore’s “‘Twas the night before Christmas” poem which inspired, and provided some of the lines, for my parody.
You can find l’escalade Part 2 here.

Going somewhere nice for Christmas? Well, bully for you!

Standard

We made the decision not to head back to the UK for Christmas and will instead be experiencing our first Genevan Christmas.

I have come to understand that Geneva will be a quiet place for Christmas. Being a city that is comprised of approximately 40% expats it is natural that a lot of these non-Swiss will return back to their respective homelands for a Christmas with friends and family. Other residents will be running to the hills, as heading for the snow-capped mountains is a popular holiday tradition. This means there wont be many people actually left in Geneva.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.24.47 PMI’m actually quite happy with the idea of a quiet Christmas this year. Yes, Christmases filled with friends and family are lovely and magical times but they can also be quite tiring.

As so much of Christmas is a time for thinking about loved ones there is a great deal of pressure to find time to catch up with everyone you care about in this condensed holiday period. Whilst this is wonderful it also entails lots of travelling around, events and activities and very little rest time. Factor in the reality that if you are taking a decent amount of time off over the holidays (and I’ve always been lucky enough to do so) this means there is always a lot of work to be done before the end of the year.

So you are usually tired approaching the holiday season and by the end of it might be more exhausted starting the new year than you were ending the old one. Having had a quite eventful year (moving country, starting a new job, enjoyable but demanding trips to the UK and a wedding abroad) I’m quite looking forward to a quiet Christmas this year with my bearded man and cats.

However, when chatting with various people about their plans for the upcoming holidays a lot of people have expressed surprise at my staying in Geneva for the entire duration of the holidays. A surprise that suggests that this is a mistake and it will absolutely be the worst Christmas I will ever have. Or if they don’t say as much they might pull a face that looks like this:

Shocked face - bp image

At the book club Christmas party last night I was speaking with a friend who said he was staying in Geneva but added the explanation, because clearly he felt he needed one, that he would be going skiing in the mountains. To express my frustration at having to yet again explain and defend my holiday plans I uttered four little words: ‘well, bully for you’ and then started laughing. Aware this was a pretty rude response I tried to explain it was a private joke between me and …er…me, or to be more accurate between me and the memory of my Granny.

Several years, actually decades, ago, when I must have been somewhere around six or seven, I attended a family party for my uncle’s 40th birthday. My Granny and Grandad had divorced long before I was born and generally did their best to avoid each other, however this was one of those rare occasions when both happened to be in the same place at the same time with the same people.

My Granddad, no doubt in the spirit of family goodwill, came to where me and mum where chatting with Granny and started a conversation. He started to tell us about a recent holiday he had been on and my Granny just looked up at him from her wheelchair, said ‘Well, bully for you’ tartly and promptly wheeled away.

I’m not really sure exactly what it was about the scenario that I found and continue to find quite so funny. I think there was a lot of genuine ill-feeling as my Granny delivered her damning one-liner to my Grandad and moved away. But over the years both mum and I have come to adopt the phrase and liberally use it to express mock indignation at anyone we perceive to be potentially bragging about any experiences, circumstances, etc. And every time I say that phrase I remember my Granny and it makes me laugh.

Last night after making a pathetic attempt to explain why I just insulted my friend’s holiday plans and then started laughing about it the memory stayed with me and continued to amuse me. Walking home later that evening, I recalled the conversation and the phrase I’d used and started laughing to myself all over again. I’m grinning away to myself as I type this right now.

Just saying those words or thinking about them brings a smile to my face or laughter to my lips. And, even though when my Granny uttered them she didn’t mean them to be quite so amusing, it also fills me with a very happy feeling about Gran that I can’t fully explain. Perhaps it is just that in repeating those words I can recall her so vividly in all her wonderful, flawed and complete humanity that it makes me feel close to her. There are lots of great memories I have of my Granny, particularly playing a lot of Mahjong or Rummikub, but that particular ‘well, bully for you’ memory surfaces most frequently when that phrase she bequeathed me slips off my tongue so easily.

I wonder if others have such equally bizarre triggers for remembering someone who is no longer a part of our lives for whatever reason? So if I ever seem to guffaw at your new watch, holiday plans or whatever with those particular words don’t take it personally but know that I’m remembering someone I loved in my own unique way.