Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sexagenarian heartthrobs: Sergio, Benoît and Beat

I would like you to meet three of my favourite Swiss. Admittedly, they are fictional characters, so I've never met them in person, but they are no less delightful for that. They are the sexagenarian SBB leisure time testers, Sergio, Benîot and Beat, (SBB is the Swiss railway company). Their mission is to test and report on the wide and varied Freizeit (leisure time) offers of SBB through advertising and infomercials, and their slogan is "für Sie getestet von Sergio, Benîot and Beat," ("tested for you by...," but I like it better in German)you can meet them here.

The Swiss of all ages take their Freizeit very seriously, and enjoy more opportunities for an active, healthy and outdoor lifestyle than I can shake a walking pole at. It's not unusual to see a Swiss 20 years older than SBB's veteran testers setting out from the Hauptbahnhof (main station) kitted out in understatedly expensive outdoor gear with hiking boots, snow shoes or skis. SBB has a different package of leisure time offers every month, based around a theme. In January, it was 'snow festival,' February was 'indoor experiences,' (a bloody good idea given the atrocious weather), and June was watersports. The offers are usually good value and well-designed, combining railfares, entry tickets to an activity or experience, and discounts on equipment hire. For example, in the winter, we went skiing to Adelboden with a heavily discounted rail ticket, money off a day ski pass, and a discount on ski hire.

Together, the SBB testers represent the three main Swiss linguistic/cultural groups. Beat is a down-to-earth and outoorsy German-Swiss, representative of the largest group in Switzerland. Benoît is a preposterously mustachioed French-Swiss in a leather jerkin with a passion for photography. Sergio is the suavely dressed Italian-Swiss from Switzerland's (second) smallest (native) linguistic group*, who seems to get into slightly more than his fair share of mischief. S, B and B star in their own advertising photo shoots and videos, write reviews of the special offers in the SBB's monthly offer booklets, and are thoroughly charming in every medium. The quirky humour of their video reviews in particular is something to behold. You don't need to understand German to enjoy them - my favourite is June's watersport videobut they are all worth a watch and a giggle. In July's video, a love interest for Sergio is introduced, and the Italian Stallion charms his lady with mountain views and a glass of Prosecco (with a little assistance from his friends).

The SBB offers can be combined with our half-fare rail cards for an extra bargain factor, but as well as enjoying my Freizeit, I keep hoping to see the SBB boys out filming for a rail journey that starts at Zürich Hauptbahnhof. So far I've not been that lucky, but if it doesn't work out for me and Greg, I might just give Beat a call...

*with thanks to Greg for added pedantry

Friday, 1 July 2011

Reflections on our first 6 months

On the 1st of January, as we lugged our 10 pieces of luggage from our hotel to our tiny temporary apartment, I don't think I had any idea what we'd let ourselves in for. Perhaps that's for the best, or I might have given it a long hard looking at before jumping in with both feet. Fortunately, I didn't have that foresight, and besides which I have a bit of a penchant for chucking everything up in the air and seeing where it lands. It keeps things interesting (for interesting, see scary).

It's a very common experience for new immigrants to any country to be overwhelmed. I have enormous sympathy and respect for those who make far more momentous moves than ours, often in difficult circumstances, and with so little by way of resources and resilience. For anyone to leave behind friends, families, jobs, a familiar language and culture, and trade a much loved homeland for the insecurity of the unknown takes a serious pair of stones. To do it whilst fleeing conflict, persecution, poverty, or worse, and running into the arms of an indifferent and unwelcoming recipient must be terrifying. For so many people, emigration is a life-changing necessity, not a capricious roll of the dice in search of some greener grass. In comparison, I feel extremely fortunate and spoilt.

It's no surprise that a rather under-prepared and over-eager pair of newly-weds would run into a few hiccups getting settled in. For starters, I had no idea what a headache my total lack of German would be, and even Greg's pretty strong German is no match for the impenetrable Schwiitzer Düütch. Of course I can get by perfectly well in a country where almost everyone speaks English beautifully, but there are so many resources, experiences and interactions that remain tantalisingly just out of reach.

I also had no concept of what it's like to be a trailing spouse. Like lots of expats (mostly women), my presence in this country is defined by my partners's job. I thought I would be able to snap up my own inside of 3 months; needless to say I'm still looking. As a woman who has always worked and been financially independent, it's a big challenge to my self-identity to ask for more money for groceries or to get my haircut. I have an inkling of what the women of previous generations might have felt, albeit in a world where the barriers to entry to the workforce are dictated more by my language skills than my gender. I am discounting the view of one recruitment agent, who insultingly insinuated that because I'm a married woman, I am a ticking time bomb of a baby factory, so I'm not a serious prospect in the labour market. I don't seriously believe that the Swiss view of the role of women is limited to the family sphere, or that employers here are that short-sighted, despite the country's chequered history on gender equality.

Cultural challenges of all sizes have abounded. For a start, absolutely everything is expensive. That's partially offset by Swiss wages, but I've become a lot more savings savvy. I have sensed a mentality that, perhaps in exchange for the high prices paid, things are expected to work. Processes and customer service experiences are expected to be startlingly efficient and well-organised, and so they are. In general, the Swiss seem to be courteous and respectful towards others. It's tricky to gauge that because of course my interactions are extremely limited and I can't understand most of what goes on around me. But I have felt very welcome and in many cases people have gone out of their way to accommodate me.

The small things are also quite quirky. It is normal to greet and make small talk with your neighbours. A serious challenge for me, but a cheery "Guten Tag" can go a long way. We are tucked up in bed at 11pm, which is late by Swiss standards, and by then most things are shut and the TV is rubbish if you stay up any later. The shops are all shut on Sundays, so we do our shopping during the week, or forgo the necessary vittles for a Sunday brunch. Nobody queues for anything, although everyone is generally very polite, and that's quite a thing to get your head around. How do you queue jump in a courteous fashion? At the supermarket, you're expected to pack your shopping bags after you've paid rather than before, and woe betide you if you get that one wrong.

Traditional Swiss culture is embraced and made relevant to the modern Swiss in a way that I never experienced in the UK. An affection for Alpine horns, Gügge bands, traditional dress, yodelling, parades and festivals, and a love of Swiss food and drink are highly contagious things. It helps that all of the above are delicious, engaging and a delight to my limited British range of experience. The outdoorsy lifestyle is also very appealing, with skiing, swimming, cycling, walking and so many other things on offer. Of course I'm generalising, of course there are all sorts of Swiss people, and in Zürich there are international lifestyles of all sorts jostling together. Zürich is probably the most diverse and alternative of Switzerland's cities, and that in itself is a blessing for me.

Although it's been quite a whirlwind, we haven't had any major meltdowns. I'm still sane, Greg's still employed, and we're still solvent. We've successfully negotiated such atrocities as finding an apartment, setting up many kinds of insurance, and hauling all of our stuff over from the UK. We've got phone contracts, bank accounts, cable TV, supermarket reward cards and all the other commercial relationships that facilitate daily life. We've got the basics in place, and we're beginning to enjoy it.

Today we have been living in lovely Switzerland for 6 months. It's been a roller coaster ride, characterised by revelations, unexpected discoveries (good and bad), the language barrier, and a surprisingly high level of culture shock. Occasionally I still catch myself thinking 'oh my God, we live here,' as the enormity of it sinks in. But I also find myself smiling about that, and I'm hopeful that we've made a change for the better.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Rewarding Schemes

I am a collector of reward cards. Not store cards, let's be clear. I'm not completely irresponsible with money. Or rather, I can be, and I know my enemy. But reward cards and loyalty cards, yes please. I love them.

In the UK, my wallet was stuffed full of colourful bits of plastic and paper. The usual high-street reward schemes obviously made the list. My love of overpriced coffees meant I also had one for each of the main chains (10th coffee for free - wheee)! Such is my loyalty to loyalty schemes that I even had several defunct and out-of-date ones hiding behind my EHIC card - for airlines and hotel chains - left over from a previous life of business travel. Even the obscure were given a spot in my collection. I had a card for clocking up free smoothies, one to earn free yoga classes, and even a Nando's card, which still has half a free chicken on it.

On arriving in Switzerland I cleared them all out. My wallet had been so over-full that it was now slack and had a tendency to drop my bank cards onto the floor. Why, I wondered, had I magpied so many? With some, the payback was obvious - a free overpriced coffee is perhaps a trifle, but Every Little Helps in Austerity Britain. With others, I rather unimaginatively used the points to buy Christmas presents and to pay for groceries the week before payday. My favourites were the ones that fed my love of a bargain. Such joy to experience the delicious smugness of claiming my free half chicken, never mind that the chicken itself was usually superfluous to requirements.

But what about the ones that never really earned me anything? The hotel scheme so ungenerous that it would take a lifetime of nights away from home to earn a free stay? The smoothie card at the smoothie shop that was too far away from the office to ever be visited again? Perhaps I have a love for the possible alternate lifestyles that those cards suggest, for the idea of a jet-setting, smoothy-drinking Helen who laughs in the face of coughing up hotel rack-rates and scorns the idea of paying for an extra wheatgrass shot.

My first rather prosaic Swiss acquisitions were for the big supermarket reward schemes. You have to apply for a card using a complicated form that is only available in German, so the arrival of mine in the post was a matter of some pride to me. You hand the card over at the checkout in the normal way, and the points get added to your account in the usual fashion. I'm not sure how or where I can redeem my points yet, but I get a warm and cosy feeling knowing that one day, when my German is good enough, there'll be a tidy little nest egg saved up for me.

Having the requisite bit of plastic also improves the success-rate of supermarket checkout interactions. I can now reply in the affirmative to the formerly dreaded "Kundenkarte?" question, neatly avoiding the risk of an unintelligible reward card sales pitch. Replying in the affirmative to other checkout interrogations is a type of Russian roulette, because I've no hope of understanding what it is I'm being offered, short of saying yes and finding out. The Migros supermarket spent the early spring giving away pointless little plastic bean things called Nanos. No relation the the iPod. Contrary to what the photo below suggests, they are also not in the least bit edible:

The delights of the inedible, non iPod Nanos were lost on me, so I learned to recognise my cue to decline them, after establishing that the children in my au pair friend's family were already awash with the little buggers. More happily, in the week before Easter, the Coop supermarket gave away free bars of milk chocolate with every purchase. Now here was the kind of freebie I could enjoy.

Soon, another cunning ruse to catch me out came along. In early April, I started being asked something by the Coop cashiers after I presented my loyalty card. To begin with I politely declined what I thought was the offer of a bag, mistakenly gesturing to the packable ones that I take everywhere with me. This caused some looks of mild confusion, but as that's a fairly standard response to my attempts at German, I didn't think much of it.

Then there came a day when I was feeling adventurous, (and indeed had forgotten to bring my packable bags with me). I said 'Ja'. And the cashier handed me a strip of small red stamps with pictures of pans on them. I was a bit confused: I certainly couldn't carry the milk home in that! And were these the kind of stamps that hold up queues when paid with in the UK? What was the social etiquette of stamp-paying in Switzerland? Would I be tutted for holding fellow shoppers up, or was it more like the Nandos free-chicken scenario? And if not for stamp-paying, then what the devil *were* they for? Still, they were rather pretty, so I collected them for a week or two without having the foggiest what to do with them.

And then, one day, Greg brought home a little sticker book for them to live in. I devoured the info on the accompanying leaflet, and I think that once our little sticker book is full, I can redeem it for money off Fondue pans and Victorinox kitchen knives. Either that, or I can swap our kitchen knives for money off our groceries. Either way, I'm in.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Fat Bottomed Girl gets back in the saddle

Lately I have found myself clad in unusual, snug-fitting clothing, sweating profusely and grinning like a loon. The more faint-hearted of our readers should be reassured - we have not been exploring the extramarital expat scene, as trailed in an earlier post. Rather, as Queen so aptly put, I Want To Ride My Bicycle...

This all entirely Greg's fault. Those of you who know us well will know that Greg is a serious cycling aficionado of several years' standing. Such is his passion, that when we received our shipment from the UK, the very first things off the lorry were the bikes. Before I had unpacked enough mugs to make a cup of tea for the delivery men, all four had been anxiously unwrapped and checked over like so many equines emerging from a long journey in a horse box. The most thoroughbred of our livery is now quartered in the dining room. Needless to say, it's not mine. My trusty steed, a cast-off of Greg's adapted for my smaller build, is more of an outdoor beast, quite happy to be tethered to the hitching post behind our apartment building and to share a tarp with its stable mates.

In the UK I had been an occasional cyclist of only limited enthusiasm, more Fat Bottomed Girl than aspiring pro-peletonnette. Inspired by the beautiful scenery, and enticed by promises of a nice flat ride around the lakeshore, I was persuaded to get back on my bike for the first time on a sunny Sunday at the beginning of April.

Flat ride my foot. Within 10 minutes of leaving the house I was angrily struggling up a steep hill out of the city, which seemed to go an interminably long time, amid assurances from the front that it wasn't much further. The descent from the top, on quiet roads with views of pretty villages backed by the lake and mountains went some way to mollify me.

I was exhausted by the time we stopped for lunch with a view of the alps, and then we crossed over the lake on the ferry for a longish, but mercifully flat, slog home. Unfortunately, we live halfway up the Züriberg, so another uphill struggle right at the end of the ride was unavoidable. Grumpy once again, I vowed never to do it again.

However, once I'd got over my sunburn and saddle stiffness, we did do the lake trip a couple more times. When Greg suggested a new route over the top of the Züriberg, I hesitantly agreed. "Grounds for divorce," became my mantra as Greg led me up ever steeper roads, I fell off my (stationary) bike in exhaustion, and resorted to walking up impossible hills and gravel tracks.  Let us draw a veil over the remainder of that ride, and move on.

So the lake ride became our standard route. We tried it both ways round, with and without the original hilly bits, and once, inadvertently and unhappily, with an additional hilly bit. Strangely I found the flatness of the main coast road a bit boring, and my heart yearned for hilltop villages and swooping descents. I still didn't want to climb to reach them, but I could see it was a necessary evil, and a change began to creep over me.

Fast forward to last night. When Greg got home from work for our evening ride, I was already lycra-ed up, with a sports drink at the ready and my bike shoes and helmet in my hands. This despite the weather being a drizzly 15C. We did the lake ride in intermittent rain with strong cross-winds. The first big hill seemed fairly easy, and I took heart. Instead of spending the second half of the ride dreading the final hill, I was rather looking forward to it. My enthusiasm waned a bit as the rain come on stronger, and then we hit some major roadworks. We had to weave in and out of the traffic, on slippery wet roads, in the gathering gloom. I was climbing, I was soaking, I was tired, and I was trapped between the steely death of a 4x4 and the equally steely death of getting a wheel stuck in a tram-track. And I was smiling.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Grass is Greener

I remember watching a magazine piece on the television when still in my formative years. I think it was in an episode of Blue Peter or Tomorrow's World. Although it may have been another programme altogether. The piece followed a man on a bicycle trailing a white balloon to collect air for pollution testing. This is my first memory of being conscious of what Switzerland might be like. Clean.

And, by comparison, it is.

Zürich is a large city. It is not spotlessly clean. But it is a lot cleaner than most, if not all, other cities I've visited.

Certainly, the swirling cyclones of litter on London's South Bank or the overflowing bins in Leeds city centre on Sunday afternoons (not emptied since before Saturday's shopping hours) are not to be found.

The bins of a park in Zürich will be overflowing after lunchtime on a hot work day. But by evening they will have been emptied. The streets after a parade or festival event will be covered in litter. But before morning it will have disappeared.

It's not that the Swiss are more clean. Just that there is a lot more clearing up after them that goes on. Street sweepers patrol the streets two or three times a week. And that is despite the low taxes for public services and an outsourcing contract covering most (if not all) elements of public cleaning and waste disposal!

There are two exceptions though: cigarette butts and chewing gum. And both are the result of very popular activities in Switzerland.

As well as the cleanliness, the Swiss are renowned for their recycling prowess, often quoted as the world's leading recyclers.

But is this behaviour a result of interest in the longevity of the planet or a distaste for mass consumption? Perhaps it is. But mostly it is because recycling is free and throwing away rubbish is expensive.

Here is where some policy makers elsewhere should take note. Especially those who want to try and weigh everyone's waste at the point of collection.

Take note of the Swiss approach: charge by volume. Here the rubbish sacks are taxed. By the local council. And you can only dispose of rubbish using one. So there are no anti-social neighbours dumping their rubbish in someone else's wheelie bin.

And the bags are heavily levied as well. A 35-litre Zürisacke costs CHF2.20 (if bought in a pack of ten). That's very nearly £1.60 today (probably about £1.70 tomorrow!). And you can put anything you like in them. There's no snooping into people's bins to check whether they are throwing the right things away. If you are stupid enough to pay to throw something away that you could dispose of for free then it's your own problem.

It's not all sweetness and light however. Whilst it may be free to recycle a range of materials, there is, of course, a system. And not an entirely straight forward one.

Let's start with the easy stuff. Street collections.

Every fortnight, on Tuesday morning, bundled paper is collected. And bundled means neatly bundled. Not higgledy-piggledy.
Garden waste is collected once per week during the Spring, Summer and Autumn if you have bought a permit. Less frequently in the Winter.

Cardboard is picked up on Wednesdays, once every four to five weeks, again, neatly bundled. And textiles once in June and once in November.

If you want to get rid of dangerous materials (such as chemicals, paints, etc.,) then you can take them to a collection point on a given day in October. Free up to 20kg of waste.

Next there's the drop-off points. That covers glass and small metal (tins and cans). Sometimes used cooking oil. These are located on the street at regular intervals throughout the city. But you can only use them between the hours of 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday. Never on a Sunday and certainly not on a Public Holiday. After all, who would want their Freizeit to be spoilt by the sound of smashing glass?

So, what's left? Plastics? Batteries? Electronics?

Well, supermarkets are responsible for providing free facilities to recycle PET, plastic milk cartons and batteries. And light bulbs, small compressed air canisters and water filter cartridges.
They also tend to have bins and recycling points behind the tills so that you can throw away unwanted packaging at their expense.

As for electronics, as elsewhere, these should be returned to an electronics store for safe and suitable disposal.

And that covers most of it. Except for innovative second-hand sales.
And bicycles!
Although at least the water is clean enough to be able to see them!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The perils of dishwasher maintenance

Recent events that have transpired as a result of my limited German vocabulary are as follows:

1. Buying beeswax instead of wood oil to use on our unsealed Oak furniture. All the tins are labelled in German, and have pictures of wood furniture on them, which is surprisingly unhelpful.

2. Buying and putting dishwasher powder in the dishwasher salt compartment. I didn't realise until I had poured in almost the entire bag, when the lemony smell and copious frothing finally alerted me to my error.

3. Bought a chicken with giblets in it rather than without and then roasted it without removing them. Did not realise until Greg disassembled it to make stock, when the reason for the mysterious bleeding from the supposedly cooked bird became clear.

DIY know-how show-how triumph

Since moving in, it has been my great delight to get stuck into some DIY. It's normal for tenants to provide and fit their own light fittings in Switzerland, so we went to IKEA (IKEA here is just like IKEA everywhere else), and we bought some ceiling roses and lampshades. The first one that I fitted, in the living room, went extremely smoothly. It was a simple case of hooking up the ceiling rose, wiring in the wires, and then hanging the shade from the wire.

The second one in the dining room threw up a problem. The wires were poking out of the ceiling as expected, but there was no hook to attach the ceiling rose to. A quick rifle through our Dorling Kindersly 'DIY Know-how with Show-how' book (highly recommended in general) was not especially helpful on the matter, so armed with optimism and a map, (but fatefully not a dictionary), I set off in search of a hardware store to purchase an appropriate hook widget. I found an extremely helpful and good humoured shop assistant whose English was about equal to my German. Much miming and confusion ensued as we rifled through the shelves of light fittings and fixtures in an elaborate process of elimination. Eventually we agreed that I needed one of these:

As eventually explained by the DIY shop lady's English-speaking teenage son, this terrifying beast must be installed so that the entire clamp part is inserted into a slot in the ceiling. It is then expanded to grip the edges of the hole. One must then fill in the entire hole with polyfiller to create a smooth(ish) finish and leave the hook sticking out of the wall.

I rummaged about a bit in our toolkit, found my electric drill and discovered the plaster saw that we bought to repair the huge hole that Greg knocked into the wall of our last flat in London. It is an ugly-looking piece of equipment and not one to wave about carelessly at head height. I scuttled up the step ladder, donned a makeshift mask and safety glasses (I am all about the safety), and then scuttled down again to switch off the electricity before proceeding.

I drilled, hacked and chiselled a hole about 2 inches by half an inch into the ceiling, bringing down about a kilogram of filthy black plaster dust and ceiling matter. There was a moment when I lost my nerve a bit and had to have a sit down and a cup of tea, but then I got stuck back in again and finished the job. I wedged the hook in, slathered on the poly filler, crossed my fingers and went to have a shower (serious amounts of dust went absolutely everywhere). The result was triumphant, if a bit lumpy:

And three weeks later the light fitting is still up :)

The joys of a flat that isn't mouldy

We have been in our new flat for over a month and it is a dream. It's huge, it's very light and airy and it's nicely finished. Nothing is broken or missing or shoddily done. For all of the following reasons, it is nicer to live in than any of our previous flats in London.

  1. The structure and fittings are sound. The window frames aren't rotten, the bathroom doesn't leak into the flat below, and the bannisters haven't come off the wall. 
  2. The flat is not a biohazard - we don't have wasp, bee, moth or ladybird infestations, it doesn't smell, it isn't damp and the washing machine isn't mouldy. In fact, the washing machine is startlingly clean, thanks to the very particular rules about disassembling and cleaning all its parts at the end of every washing day. 
  3. We have actually spoken to some of our neighbours, and none of them seem to be running businesses from their homes. So, in order of ascending annoyance, no drug dealers, car dealers or dog groomers to contend with.
  4. We can't see (or hear) the West London flyover from our bedroom window. On a clear day, we can see the Alps from the bus stop on the main road.

I have only found two things that I don't like about it.

Firstly, we have so much space that our modest amount of furniture floats about looking lonely in the middle of the rooms. We got rid of quite a few things before we left the UK, and this has been aggravated by the incompetence of our removal company. In exchange for a shockingly large fee, they distinguished themselves by losing an entire bookcase, the shelves for a second bookcase, and a box of crockery. They also broke our third bookcase, and one of our office storage units. To add insult to injury, they managed to misplace the widgets that hold together our double bed and our futon sofa. So we are sleeping on our mattress on the floor. More widgets are in the post, lost in the interminable confusion caused by all the UK bank holidays.

Secondly, the light in the loo is on a movement sensor and a timer. In this way, it is an interesting barometer of digestive health. If you need to wave at it to switch the light back on, then you know that things are not quite as they should be...

Catching up - April 1st

NB - I wrote the below first impressions of our new flat on April 1st but we didn't get our internet connection sorted until mid April, and then I got a bit distracted by various things and neglected the blog for a bit...

Today is April 1st, which as far as I can tell (and much to my relief given my limited German) is not a day of pranks and nonsense here in Switzerland, or at least I have so far avoided being the butt of any jokes. We are still in Lent after all. But it is very sunny and warm and extremely spring-like. The city has been coming alive in the last fortnight, and getting itself spruced up for the summer. Verdant swathes of colourful patio furniture have been springing up outside cafes like daffodils and crocuses. What I took to be storage sheds along the riverbanks have suddenly unfolded into bars and riverside swimming pools, with their attendants seemingly emerging from hibernation within, and blinking at the sunshine. And as in spring the first flies and insects start to appear, so the first coach loads of tourists are beginning to roll in.

Today is also our first full day in our new apartment, which we took possession of yesterday, a much anticipated and exciting event. Spending 3 months together in one room of less than 20m2 has been a true test of our sapling marriage, but I am pleased to report that a divorce is not on the cards. Our new flat is nearly 4 times that size, and we have been rattling about in it not knowing what to do with all the space, and getting separation anxiety when we can’t see each other.  It’s in a quiet and pretty spot near to the University, far enough up on the hill to the west of the city to be scenic, and not far enough round towards the lake to have a lake view or to be pricey. It does however have a mountain view, in that if I lean right out over the balcony railing and twist my head back around I can see a tiny sliver of tree tops and the tip of the radio antennae on the Zürichberg.

The flat has been extremely well kept and is (currently) unbelievably clean. I think it was professionally cleaned before we moved in, but the previous tenants must also have taken very good care of it, because there are none of the usual signs of long-term occupation. No hint of limescale in the kitchen sink, no spot of mildew on the bathroom grout, not a single mucky mark on the skirting boards or definitely no smudges on the flooring. There is also no dust down the back of any of the radiators – something that I didn’t know was physically possible until now. Those of you who are reading this who are prone to cleanliness will probably be reeling with horror, but the flats that we lived in in London have ranged from generally-a-bit grubby to downright biohazard when we have moved into them.

Monday, 14 March 2011


It's carnival season as various communities from Rio to New Orleans to Basel and (less famously) Zürich celebrate the pagan traditions of the change of winter to spring and the Christian traditions of preparing to fast during Lent.

They're a bit strange in the Alemannic folkloric tradition.

Here's an idea of what we happened across in the centre of Zürich yesterday.

For a little more information on the background...