Friday, 31 August 2018

We ❤️ Mountains

There are 17 of us on this family holiday, so I’ve been wondering how to write about it. A communal experience needs a communal voice, so I’ve consulted the others.  “What should I write about?” I asked them. There has been a wide range of responses.

I first came here 49 years ago with my parents and 3 older brothers. Today, 15  of us getting into the cable car up to our walk to Elsighorn weighed in at 1 tonne. Or so the digital display on the cable car read.  We weighed the same on the way down, having carried up our lunch, eaten it after our descent from the summit. (2 were missing from today’s trip because of the demands of revision. But I’ve been asked not to write about that, especially as for others, this holiday is about rest - staying half board in a hotel, not having to think about cooking, shopping, washing up.)

Adelboden, Canton Bern, is a place where people work hard at continuity. There is little sign of change. There is little sign of decay. The shops in the main street are mostly the same as the ones we first saw in 1969. The place where we’ve been for ice cream treats, Tearoom Schmid, is the same tearoom we couldn’t wait to visit when we returned in 1975 and 1981.  The Coupe Danemark - vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce - is still on the menu, and still costs around 10 SF, although back then we got many more francs for our pounds. The stationery shop is set out in the same way - shelves of brightly coloured paper down one side, calendars opposite, islands displaying postcards, small boxes of paper clips, paper napkins bearing the Swiss flag, and other gifts and essentials. The chalets, which are lined up in the village and scattered on the hillsides, are still showing late displays of red geraniums. They conform to a shape and are made from wood. Newer chalets are roofed with tiles, though get further into the mountains and many are still roofed with wooden shingles.

The bears we saw in Bern yesterday, despite their expanded living quarters, looked depressed. They used to occupy a circular concrete pit. Now they have the river bank of the Aane, water to bathe in and trees to climb.  But they’re still fenced in.  Necessarily - we understand that. They’re a symbol of stifled creativity - or a symbol of Bern. It depends how you look at things.

In 1969, the first thing that happened to us children was a telling off. We rolled down the grassy bank in front of Pension Hari not realising that all grass is flesh - or milk - and someone’s livelihood. The cow is almost sacred here, and the sounds of their bells hanging around their necks are mellower than the peal of any church bells. We saw the cows being brought down from the grassy high summer alps, being walked through the village, their heads decorated with flowers, readying for colder weather.

This time some of us got told off for playing in the newly added ball pit. Not me, obvs.

Compared to holidays we had when younger, this holiday has been pretty much the same. Except there are more of us, and everyone is over 18. And it’s so easy. Last time we came en masse, in 2010, some of us - a lot of us - were under 18.  Not me, obvs.

The generations and the newcomers and the longest-serving family members have mixed well. Something new is the hot tub.  This has helped the mixing up. It’s a lovely place to relax after toiling up a mountain. Which reminds me, something that’s the same has been the weather.  Hot and clear blue skies for 2/3 of the time and low cloud and rain for 1/4. And a wonderful thunderstorm makes up the difference. It all goes down in the mountains. Or up - Mars rose red and bold two clear nights in a row to the right of Lohner.

Something that’s changed is that Wildstrubel’s flat top has a thinnner layer of snow on it than we’ve ever seen. This melting fact kept me awake for a long time the other night. But those who walked down beside the waterfall from Entsligenalp took longer than planned because it was so beautiful and they kept stopping to look.

There are amazing tall sunflowers in vases all over the hotel even when the sun is hidden by cloud or the Earth’s rotation. If you buy beer from the supermarket, they let you hire a crate to carry the bottles and refund you 35 cents per bottle when you return them.

The sunflowers weren’t here when we worked here, at the hotel, my brothers and I, one by one in our year between school and university. It’s odd how we can be nostalgic for something we didn’t particularly enjoy - but there was so much on offer in addition to the loneliness and isolation felt on living away from home for the first time. Learning to ski. Learning German (Swiss German). Chocolate. Being paid into a Swiss bank account. Learning how to wrap a boiled egg in greaseproof paper. Dreaming for the first time in a foreign language.

Each morning we’ve had the evening’s dinner menu given to us. When it said ‘Brokkolisuppe’, even those who don’t know German could feel they were getting the hang of things.

The cable cars are equipped with ladders and an escape hatch in their roofs. Is this reassuring, or not?

There are people who aren’t here. Hi to Ben, Becca, Naomi and Hannah.  Wish you were here.

One of the last holidays with Mum and Dad was here in 1987. Mum wanted to come another time. She loved the Swiss Alps - loved the purity of the air, the infinite variety of views of the mountains - glowing red at sunrise or sunset, and the friendship of people who shared her faith: the family Hari who welcomed us here after our parents had helped them out in London in the early 60s. Katie’s not here either: our stepmother joined in with everything in 2010, including speeding down the Rodelbahn above Kandersteg.

The way the Swiss have developed their countryside but have done it in a way that preserves so much of what is enjoyable is admirable, and much appreciated by marmots. The public transport deserves a mention all of its own.

Even as I write this, games are being played: Bananagrams, pool, table tennis - and some of us are going to re-watch the Sound of Music, sing along to ‘Climb Every Mountain’.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

I Thwart An Intruder

I was leaving for work this morning, and a man was trying to get in through the front door. With a key raised to the lock. As I opened the door, there he was, hand in mid-air, key pointing towards me like, well, an assertion of his rights.

My first thought was: Who are you? My second thought was: Who the hell are you?

In my job, I always have to be prepared to thwart. Most of the time, I enable and facilitate, but sometimes it's imperative that I block a route, signpost an alternative way.

"Is this the hotel?" the man, bent on intruding, asked
"No." I answered.

He pointed at the doorbell of my neighbour downstairs. It's just an ordinary doorbell - has nothing of the look of a hotel about it.

"This is the hotel," he stated in the manner of someone who knows he's right.
"This is not a hotel," I retorted, in the manner of someone who knows she's right. 

He was trying to get past me.  I stood like a door in the doorway - flat and tall, spreading myself out to fit the frame.

"It says D. Hall," the man said pointing at the bell. "That's the hotel."
"This is not a hotel. That's my neighbour's bell." I didn't know how to get through to him: he was careering on certainty. 

Then, the penny dropping for me, but not him. I pointed round the corner. "Go that way.  It's the Drapers Hall you're looking for."  I might have added, sarcastically, You're welcome, or, Have a nice day! But I don't multi-task. 

He set off and disappeared around the corner to the hotel which looks nothing like my front door. He hadn't apologised, omitted to offer something like Silly me! or You must think I'm very rude! 

I let the door slam behind me: hurried to work, a full day's worth of thwarting already behind me. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

I Mix A Drink

Back in the extraordinarily hot part of the summer, in Antwerp, just two weeks ago, as things were cranking up to a climax of oven-ready heat, we sat at a cafĂ© table and drank iced tea.  This drink took an immediate place in the top ten of my 'most welcome drinks ever'. It followed a trip to the Swedish Detention Centre (aka IKEA, Wilrijk branch) and a tussle over a double bed, and a table. It followed the discovery that when you rent an apartment in Belgium, the previous occupants will have taken out all the light fittings so that assembling the tussled-over flatpack later in the evening becomes impossible. Not even the EU can protect you from some experiences. 

The iced tea gained extra ranking points as I drank it with my son and his friend, though it still doesn't come quite as high up the rankings as the banana milkshake I drank in the German Dairy in Chiang Mai, N Thailand, in 1987 when the temperature was similarly around 35 degrees, but the humidity was at a level I didn't know existed till then. In that case, I'd been backpacking for four weeks and not encountered any dairy products. That milkshake went straight to my bones.

There's nothing like sitting at a table after something exhausting, like backpacking round Thailand or pushing a trolley around IKEA, and being served a drink. There's the choosing, the short wait which feels like a long wait, and then the arrival of a tray, bright glasses, the drink sharpened by stacked ice and lemon slices, and then the exquisite relief of the first mouthful. 

I recreated that drink by mixing two pints of cooled camomile tea with the juice of two lemons, sugar to taste, ice, lemon slices and sprigs of mint. I took it to work in a flask, and, though it didn't make it into the top ten most welcome drinks ever, I was grateful for it and all its summer associations as I sat at my desk, looking out at the clouding sky, planning the year ahead. 

This evening, I mixed myself a banana milkshake.