Resolving on a great 2015

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“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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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:

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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.

Dining with the dead

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“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast Sunday I took part in a free walking tour of my new home city, kindly organised by the City of Geneva. This particular walk was focused on Geneva’s parks and gardens and took the group on a meandering tour from the Brunswick Monument on the left bank of the lake across to the newly reopened Musée d’Ethnographie.

One of our last stops was the Plainpalais Cemetery, known locally as Cimetière des Rois (Cemetery of the Kings) in tribute to the notable personages buried there which include John Calvin, figurehead of the 16th century protestant reformation; Jean Luis Borges, famous Argentinian writer; Sofiya Dostoyevsky, daughter of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and many more illustrious personages.

I already knew the cemetery well, as it’s close to my work place, and I had passed through and visited on many an occasion. So when the tour guide told us that in the summer this was a common picnicking spot I didn’t exhibit the surprise of some of my fellow tourists. I had seen that with my own eyes and have in fact consumed lunch in the cemetery on more than one occasion.

When a colleague first took me to eat in the cemetery, on a beautifully sunny October day, she seemed almost apologetic for bringing me there. I think she thought I might find the idea of eating our homemade food amongst the dead as somehow unseemly.

I don’t know why people have an aversion to cemeteries or fear of the dead, which is presumably where the aversion to their resting place comes from. I don’t know if ghosts exist or not but if they do I don’t see that there is any reason to fear them. If there are ghosts then I imagine them to be a sort of reflection or echo of the person they once were and as I have a tendency to believe all people are pretty decent at heart I see no reason to think that their spirits would be any different.

It also seems strange to me the idea that there ought to be a respectful distancing of ourselves from the dead whereby the idea of showing any happiness or joy in these places of death is to be severely condemned, as though the deceased would want us wailing over them forever.

My only negative experience in a graveyard revolved around a primary school incident of trying to raise a particular spirit from their grave, which ended badly in getting me grounded for two weeks for returning home two hours later than I was supposed to (we were waiting for it to get dark).

But the truth is, I have always rather liked cemeteries. I have many fond, and wholly unsqueamish, memories of walking around burial grounds with my parents from an early age. I liked the flowers, the calm and trying to read the inscriptions washed away by time on the oldest tombstones. But mostly I liked reading through the names, the dates of birth and death, the families recorded in the same plot and taking a moment to stop and think about the once living people who now lay beneath the earth.

I think my love of history comes from the same basic root of wanting to find a way to connect with those of the past. To think how their lives may have been, what they may have felt, to imagine myself in their shoes and to wonder if anyone in the future will ever try to connect with an historical version of myself?

I suppose that is also why I have a strong desire to one day write a great novel in the same way others desire to make their mark in film, be renowned for scientific discovery, bring about a revolution or raise a legion of children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. It’s the desire to be remembered and, in recognition of the truth that our lives are but fleeting moments in history, to think that there is a way in which we may continue to live on beyond our allocated time.

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So, I explained to my lunch companion that I felt no compunction in enjoying the autumn sun, eating my sandwiches and relaxing in a cemetery. I think the idea of the living mingling with the dead is somehow a rather comforting thought.

Those of us picnicking in Plainpalais cemetery probably haven’t chosen the spot because we have some sort of morbid fascination with the ghoulish, we have come because it is a pleasant spot to be in. And if, whilst we are there to enjoy ourselves, we take a moment to look at a few stones, to read the names carved upon and to take a moment to think about the people they memorialise then that seems a more honourable way to remember the dead than to keep a ‘respectful’ distance.

 

An expat among expats

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“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

One of the things I liked when I first came to Geneva was that the city is full of expats from every region of the world. I had the sense that no-one really belonged here but in this communality of not-belonging we all did.

And whilst invariably you would get pockets of certain people from the same country coming together more often than not the groups I would meet would be a real melting pot of different nationalities.

For example the first four friends I made here were Lebanese, Chinese, Dutch and Maltese-Australian. There are about 25 people in my office that represent around 17 different nationalities and you’ll hear a number of different languages floating around the corridors. Coming from my previous job in the UK, primarily made up of white British staff, the cultural mix here was quite new to me but something I warmly embraced.

Events like the World Cup are so much more fun when not everyone around you is rooting for the same team. And I have really enjoyed discovering what experiences and cultural practices are commonly shared amongst this mish-mash of people and what things are unique to each nationality (People in Geneva do have Christmas tree but I was stumped when trying to explain sherbert to a group of co-workers the other day). The office universally shares a love of chocolate but has fun debating which country produces the best or worst chocolate.

I’ve been an expat before when I interned in Cambodia but there we were small in a number and had a tendency to stick together. But being an expat among expats is an entirely different experience with a lot of positives. However, there is a downside as well.

A few months ago I met a chap from abroad who told me that until he and his wife had children they didn’t make any Swiss friends. When I asked him why he explained that with so many people coming and going those that were more permanently based here didn’t want to invest their time in getting to know people who would ultimately leave.

At the time I thought that it was a bit heartless not to make an effort to welcome newcomers into your lives just because they might leave again. But as expat friends of mine have now started to leave or announce upcoming plans for departure I’ve started to understand their thinking. It’s not that they are heartless but rather that its heartbreaking when someone you’ve come to know and care for is going to be gone from your life and possibly never re-enter it.

I’ve always been a selfish creature, for example uprooting the fella and abandoning all UK based friends and family to chase my dreams in Geneva, but it never occurred to me until it started happening to me on a frequent basis how hard it is to be left behind.

A number of people that I’ve met in Geneva that I’ve taken the time to get to know and have gradually forged fledgling friendships with that I thought had the potential to develop into full-on chumminess have announced that they will be leaving in the next few months and I’m honestly gutted.

From a selfish point of view I want everyone to stay and be my friends forever and if I decide to move again for them all to decide to move with me. Is that too much to ask?

I grudgingly accept that not everyone’s lives revolve around me, much as I might like them to, and I understand why certain people are leaving and obviously wish them well in their future adventures. It’s just I feel like someone has grabbed the trunk of a flimsy tree I’d built a nest in and shaken it violently, with the unsettling effect the departure of these people will have just as I was stating to feel comfortable here.

I think it’s good to put yourself out of your comfort zone but it’s harder when other people do this for you. Whilst I know not all my friends are leaving, there will always be constants in my life and that I’ll undoubtedly meet new and interesting people to form new friendships with there’s a part of me that wants to protect myself from future hurt by simply shutting myself off to the opportunity of loving and losing more people.

But then I think, well if I’d done that I’d never have met these wonderful people in the first place. If I hid my heart from other potential friends I’d be letting fear rule my life and that’s against the whole philosophy of what this blog was initially supposed to be about (see ‘The Why’).

So rather than feeling bummed out about the fact that some of my friends will leave I ought to make the most of them whilst they are still here. And it’s quite exciting to think that ten months ago I didn’t know any of them and in another ten months there could be more great people in my life I haven’t even met yet. Plus the further my friends disperse themselves around the world the more excuses I have to go and visit new places. It might be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster but it’s a wonderful world.

 

To sleep or not to sleep? That is the question

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When I must have been about 3 or 4 I had a set routine: lunch, watch the Wombles and then a little sleep. No complaints with the first two but I really hated nap-time.

My hatred of napping continued as a child and I would always refuse to admit I was tired. If caught with my eyes closed and conscious enough to hear someone say I was asleep, I would fiercely retort ‘I’m awake’ and be angry at the suggestion it could possibly be otherwise!

It wasn’t until I started at University that I began to realise that far from being a bad thing, a little snooze was, actually, rather wonderful. Forget the two hours of seminars a day, cheap drinking and student discount card, University living taught me to appreciate the benefits of a short snooze.

For a time I worked for the Student Union’s technical crew. To be honest, I’ve no idea why they gave me a job as I knew less about technical issues then than I do now. I was probably hired because a) no-one else wanted the job and b) they thought a bit of gender balance might be good (the ratio of male to female staff when I worked there was probably something like 20:2).

Because I wasn’t very technical I’d be assigned the easy jobs such as carrying stuff and carefully coiling up electrical wires at the end of the night. There wasn’t much to be done during most events and when there were problems I wasn’t really the one to fix them. I’d take charge of club lighting and this wasn’t much of an effort when you could just set a variety of light effects and leave them on automatic.

In one room, the light controls were in the DJ box and on top of the DJ box was a storage space for different coloured drapes for stage backdrops. I discovered this space was perfect for napping and, with my earplugs in and a careful rearranging of the drapes, I could create a little nest for myself.

People often say that University isn’t just about the degree but the life skills you develop and take away with you and I’d certainly agree. I learnt how to sleep anywhere. Being able to catch up on a few ZZZs in the middle of a club night opened up a whole new world of sleep opportunities for me: the library, public transport, parties, anywhere.

P1020055However, sleep is like a drug. Once you get used to giving into temptation to have a little shut-eye as and when you want it, it actually becomes quite difficult to then ignore that temptation when it comes at inopportune times.

Like the first time you meet a good friend’s, now husband, then boyfriend but you are tired (and possibly quite drunk) so keep having toilet breaks to have 10 minutes snooze time in the cubicle.

In the post-university so-called real world I had a job where I only shared an office with one other person. On a regular basis I would wait until my colleague went for lunch and then, using my coat as a pillow, create a den for myself under my desk. I’d set my alarm for twenty minutes and have a refreshing powernap.

Sometimes I’d hear people come into the office but no-one ever walked around to my desk and discovered me. That could have been hard to explain. Since then I have always been able to find a suitable spot at work where a quick snooze could be an option.

Until now.

My new office in Geneva has no suitable sleep spots whatsoever. My desk is far too exposed for a sleep under there, the staff room is the kitchen, there are no empty offices with armchairs where I could at least pretend I accidentally fell asleep (much less embarrassing than being caught in an under-desk-den) and the only sofa is in the corridor right next to reception. It’s terrible.

I thought it would be ok, tried telling myself that I was a grown up, that plenty of people go a whole day without napping, that I could just do what others do and replace sleep with coffee. And that did work for a time.

However, when I was ill a couple of weeks back an annoying side effect was extreme exhaustion, which, although lessened, continued to follow me when I returned back to the workplace after a week’s intermittent absence. Since then I have been craving siesta-time like never before.

By the time I’d realised how important a quick midday kip was I’d already quit my old job and country so there was no turning back. My only option is to convince everyone else to instate naptime for grown-ups.

In Switzerland, as I understand it, they have a very active kind of democracy. Anyone, with enough support, can call for the government to change the law via referenda, which happen every few months or so. Perhaps I should lobby Swiss friends to call for mandatory provision of sleep areas at work?

Failing that, maybe it’s not too late to switch careers to science and dedicate the rest of my working life to enabling species change so that I can become a cat.

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Why I’m not great with doctors

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“Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.” – Marcel Proust

I made a promise to myself that I would blog once a week and as my mother has already demanded to know where this week’s blog is, skipping out isn’t just cheating me but there is a slight chance others may notice (aside from immediate family). However, I apologise in advance. This is unlikely to be my most interesting, well-written or lucid post but I have an excuse and it was either this or an old piece of prose about a broken heart.

My excuse is I have been really ill all week, now don’t worry this isn’t going to be a post like ‘The forlornest looking lampshade‘ where I shared every gruesome detail of my last illness. For one thing, there’s less comedy value in current bout of sickness. For another, much as I love to make the world all about me at the best of times and even more so at the worst of times, I accept that the details probably aren’t that interesting a read.

Anyway, without the gory details, suffice to say my illness has been of the sort where looking at a screen for more than an hour or two has been unimaginable until today and up until now I’ve prioritised screen time for work related duties, feeling not just a little guilty about my lack of paid duty effectiveness.

P1010259That was the excuse. This is apparently the blog post:

I promised my mother I would go to a doctor if I still wasn’t better by today so I did sort of try to keep to my word. I wasn’t very succesful and probably could have tried harder but I made a few calls trying to register as a patient or arrange an appointment with an English-speaking doctor*. By the time I found a likely couple of leads it was too late as I realised neither worked on Friday afternoons.

My friends at work were emailing to ask why I hadn’t gone to a doctor yet and I explained I was on the mend and it was now quite unnecessary. I have been feeling much better this afternoon so this is partially true, but actually this is the longest period of time when I have felt consecutively unwell since I can remember so if I was going to a doctor maybe I should have gone a few days back when I felt rotten to the core.

And why didn’t I? Three equally rubbish reasons.

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Reason number one

I don’t like going to the doctors for anything other than routine appointments because whenever I have gone feeling awful (like last time I had bad sinusitis) there is nothing they can do for me anyway and I end up leaving feeling I’ve wasted their time.

Reason number two

This is specific to being an expat. I just don’t get how it works here. Some places you are meant to register in advance, some places you just turn up. I don’t understand how it works and I don’t trust myself not to put myself in an embarrassing situation by thinking I’ve made an appointment and going to the wrong place or worse going to the right place but completely misunderstanding that under no circumstances are appointments available for nearly thirty year old brunette women who aren’t Swiss.

Reason number three

The final reason is probably the worst one and that’s financial. Every month I pay a ridiculously high portion of my wages for a sub-standard medical insurance with an excess so high I figure I could only cover it in emergency situations as it would warrant eating up my entire British bank account overdraft.

This means that a simple doctor’s appointment is going to be paid for by me. I have no idea how much, see reason two, but suspect it to be somewhere around 100 Swiss Francs. When my weekly fun budget is currently just 40 of those Swiss Francs sacrificing two and a half week’s fun budget just to be told they can’t help me anyway, reason one, doesn’t really seem worth it.

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Do you have a point?

No, not really, I just want to say how much I love the National Health Service and wish that the Conservative Government and other detractor’s of the NHS would recognise the value of it. It is absolutely one of the best things about living in Britain. The fact that the US struggled to realise a very poor version of this and yet some people in the UK act as though they’d be happy to just throw our health service away, something Britain’s had and enjoyed for over 60 years, is truly disappointing.

I do not doubt the NHS is flawed, there can be long waiting lists and there’s probably too much bureaucracy, but it is available to everyone, even those with private health care who don’t need it. It is wonderful and works exceptionally well in emergency situations when people really need it. It is also staffed by some really hard-working and dedicated individuals who take all the criticisms and carry on anyway because they know how important it is.

I hope people will continue to fight for the UK’s NHS because if we let it go then it’s gone. That’s the problem with giving things away, you can’t then demand them back when you finally realise how much they meant to you.


*French is improving and conversations with french receptionists are one thing but I don’t trust my language skills enough not to accidentally tell a doctor I have wings growing out of my back when trying to describe eye-pain and then getting sent to a different kind of doctor entirely.
P.S. I had no appropriate images and lack brain power for wonderful computer stick men drawings so just added photo of the cats when they were kittens so that there’s something nice to look at.

 

The zombie wedding I wasn’t allowed to have

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The engagement and wedding fever

In September 2013 my partner finally gave into familial and societal pressure and after six years together he decided to put an end to my wandering ways, came out to join me at the end of a financially-insensible, three-month, unpaid internship in Cambodia and proposed.

He tells the story slightly differently, something about a romantic setting at one of the wonders of the world (Angkor Wat in Cambodia) blah-de-blah…*

We returned to the UK together: him, one box of jeweled anxiety lighter and me, one bit of bling heavier.

I thought we might be allowed a teeny amount of time to revel in our new found enfiancededyness (should totally be a word) and bask in the happiness of knowing our friends and family can relax and enjoy our betrothal.

However, it turns out that isn’t what happens once you get engaged. What happens is that all that pent-up longing to see us get engaged mutates into a monstrous level of excitement about all things weddingy. Within a week of return I must have been asked approximately 10,000 times when, where and how the wedding was going to take place and who would be invited.

Finding it a bit overwhelming I enlisted the help of some avowed wedding-unenthusiast friends who helpfully suggested a strategy to combat marriage fever. I was to come up with as many ridiculous wedding plans as possible until people got so frightened I was serious they stopped asking me about it.

Of the unsuitable wedding ideas considered, the zombie theme was undoubtedly my favourite and I put a lot of thought into the details to make it convincing.

The zombie wedding plans

Zombie weddingThere would be utilitarian themed wedding invites scraped together from the kind of bits of cardboard you’d find breezing around an apocalyptic London where no-one has time to go to Paperchase anymore.

These would include the necessary logistical information but also references to the need to band together to increase our chances of survival.

I envisaged the wedding itself as a fairly non-eventful affair except that at the part when the Priest invites anyone to declare any reason why we couldn’t get married some ‘zombies’ would bang loudly on the church door and groan.

The service would conclude and guests would be carefully chaperoned to the wedding reception venue by Shaun of the Dead inspired groomsmen armed with cricket bats and old records.

Serving staff would already be undead (I was thinking actors, students or some other bunch of reprobates) with chains to limit their movement. You can take a drink but would have to try not to let them bite you.

For our wedding breakfast we could have provided packets of Wotsits, tins of cold baked beans, mouldy cheese, beer cans and other larder items scavenged from deserted houses. Decorations could have been paperchains fashioned out of blood spattered old newspapers and stubs of candles in old wine bottles would have provided suitable Armageddon-esque romantic lighting. All in keeping with the concept, and cost-effective too.

Rather than the usual party games for tables of strangers, guests would be provided with scrappy pencils and recycled paper and asked to plan their escape from the reception to a nearby safehouse and there’d be a competition to come up with the most inventive way of killing zombies with only the contents of the room available to them.

Photos would have been in two stages. Initially guests in their nice outfits and looking their best. Then we’d have had a face painter whose job would be to gradually transform guests into zombies. Later, another round of photos and if guests happened to be drunk and covered in Wotsit dust by this time then so much the better.

By the end of the night I imagined everyone having been bitten and transformed into a zombie so that party time could be everyone dancing to Thriller on repeat, drinking brain cocktails, eating cake shaped like a decomposing body and occasionally shouting out ‘brains’ to make the zombie bride and groom try to eat each other.

The reaction

My dad, reasonably confident I was joking, entered into the spirit of my zombie wedding idea and at an engagement party took great pleasure in sharing plans with aunts and uncles. He was pretty convincing and the measured looks on their faces as they tried to weigh horror at such an idea against likelihood it was a joke was highly entertaining. Except for Grandma who accepted the concept without question, laughed that she wouldn’t have to dress up and promptly settled herself into an armchair with a glass of sherry.

I got so carried away with the idea of my joke wedding that I managed to convince myself that any alternative would be a disappointment. When it became apparent it was less of a joke than it had initially seemed I received strong feedback from people, fiancé included, that an undead wedding really wasn’t a great idea.

I realized I could maturely respond to wedding excitement had two options:

1) I could find a new fiancé, friends and family that might be onboard with the wedding/judgement day of my imagination.

2) If I wasn’t allowed that wedding I’d have to engineer a situation whereby any wedding seemed wholly unfeasible.

I chose option number two, moved to Geneva and made the poor fella quit his job and follow me to one of the most expensive cities in Europe where we couldn’t afford a wedding (zombie or otherwise) even if we wanted to.**

How d’you like them (rotten) apples, eh?

 


*This is a good test to see if the fiancé actually reads my blog or just pretends to and if he does read it how much trouble I will get in for writing this!
**Please note I may or may not have moved to Geneva for reasons other than avoiding/stalling my own wedding

Judge, Jury and Executioner

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“I think fish is nice, but then I think that rain is wet, so who am I to judge?” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I am a huge fan of the Humans of New York (HONY) website (you can also follow the page on facebook for feel-good hits throughout the day). Brandon, the man behind HONY, takes a photo of a random individual and then he asks a few probing questions to get a snapshot of that person’s story. The images instantly evoke one idea, but the brief snippet of dialogue calls us to question our preconceptions and think a little bit more about the human behind the image.

From the snappily dressed businessman, to the homeless man to a middle-aged couple everyone has their story to tell and it isn’t necessarily reflected by their outward appearances. HONY is a brilliant blog that reaches an audience of millions and is teaching all of us to think before we judge.

I believe it comes naturally to judge people, we can’t help it. But we can try to overcome this tendency by questioning why we do this.

We are human and we respond with a variety of emotions, that we don’t consciously control, towards those around us. These feelings have been shaped by our experiences and the societal norms we unconsciously absorb every day.

So if we feel uncomfortable if someone asks for our number that’s probably because we have had a bad experience in the past. We then project that recognition of a negative encounter onto a new situation. If we feel awkward when a homeless man asks us for money it’s because we feel having a home is important and their approaching us makes us question why some people don’t have this.

If someone is constantly late or fails to show up to a meeting we may decide they are unreliable. We are interpreting their actions by what is important to us. In this case keeping to an agreed appointment is important to us and therefore we negatively judge anyone who does not attribute the same importance to this. Late again - BP image

But that same person, that regularly flakes out on you, may also be someone who would drop everything, including bailing on existing commitments, to be there for you if you really needed them. And this may be a trait we also rate highly even though it contradicts the first.

We may think a person is wonderful because we respect X, Y and Z characteristics and therefore admire those in others or we may think someone is terrible because of traits A, B and C that we don’t value. Someone else might think aspects A, B and C are much more admirable than X, Y and Z.

There is no right answer as to what’s better, it’s simply personal preference. Judgement is, therefore, entirely subjective.

It’s easy to judge others. It’s easy to think so-and-so at work is stuck up and looks down on us, or that someone is unnecessarily rude to us, or that another person who makes us tea on a daily person is the best person to ever walk the planet.

But judging others says more about us than them. If we think someone is looking down on us then that reveals our own insecurities by suggesting we think they have something to look down on. If someone is rude to us we should think about why it bothers us or what has happened to them to cause them to be so rude rather than marking them down as a ‘bad’ person. If we think it’s great that someone makes us tea it’s because we really like tea (yes, I am living up to the English stereotype) and value their thoughtfulness in thinking of our needs.

A friend, also comparatively new to Geneva, told me about an incident when she was walking home alone one evening, along an almost deserted street. She was approached by a slightly drunken man who asked for her phone number. She told him she had a boyfriend but he persisted anyway saying he just wanted to talk. When she questioned him on this he admitted with a smile that he didn’t just want to talk. When she still refused to give him her number he asked her if he could just have a hug instead.

She told me that her first thoughts were ‘absolutely not, who was this person, what if he tried to assault her, or steal from her’ but then she opened herself up to the idea that maybe he was just another human being, like her, who was just looking to make a connection. And so she agreed.

She said the hug was so warm and full of kindness that he hugged her as though she were an old friend he had known forever. And then he left. Without having taken any of her belongings, without attacking her and without asking again for her phone number. Months later and she still remembers how wonderful that hug felt.

If we are aware of our tendency to judge then maybe we can try to check that natural feeling and open ourselves up to the idea that every single one of us is a unique and fascinating person, subject to their own experiences and with their own stories to tell that has shaped who they are. This planet is a vibrant tapestry of interesting people from every walk of life and if we could be less judgemental then maybe we could give these people an opportunity to enrich our lives.

(Please note I take no responsibility for anyone who opens up their lives to a complete bunch of nutters unless that person is also a nutter and now has lots of nutty friends in which case I will take full credit.)