Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jovial Douche

Yep, this is our current brand of shower gel, purchased specifically because it might be a douche, but it's a jovial one.

And it got me thinking. 'Jovial Douche' might be the way to describe me now that I'm living in Switzerland and people here haven't a clue what 'daggy' or 'low maintenance bag lady chic' means.

The Plastic Mancunian recently hosted an 'Ask me a question' session on his blog and I've kindly been given permission to steal it. Mostly because I'm curious as to what kind of questions that folk like you, dear reader, would think I'd be able to answer.

This is considered a living meme in that the questions answered will be from you. I'll try to be honest, kind and relatively inoffensive.

So, what would you like to ask me, the Jovial Douche? Don't be shy.......

Monday, September 26, 2011

Death, diet coke and Jennifer Aniston

"Mum, it says 14-plus and we're twelve and you let me watch Frasier and Friends and Seinfeld and even Michael McIntyre so if you come with us too it'll be OK."

I was cornered. Sapphire has a way of chatting with her best mate Nafeesa via skype and they make plans that are foolproof. The venue's decided, the activity, the time, the pick-up and drop-off points are very well thought out and neither Nafeesa 's mum or I can claim that it doesn't fit in with our plans because the sneaky little gumnuts have already factored that into their equation.

“Alright then. Where am I supposed to be and at what time for the two of you?”

They wanted to see ‘Horrible Bosses’ featuring Jennifer Aniston in the ensemble cast. “It looks like a rom-com,” Sapphire assured me.

Considering that rom-com is usually her stock-in-trade and that I haven’t paid attention to what’s been playing in Swiss cinemas here for the past four months, it seemed like a reasonable assumption.

Nafeesa looked slightly puzzled when I crammed in three cans of Coke Zero and a trio of home-brand Snickers bars into my handbag. “We Locketts don’t pay quadruple price for our movie munchies.” (Sapphire’s already twigged that she’s one of the poor kids at her school, especially when a classmate apologised for not submitting their homework because he was busy helping his parents look at and buy a chalet. Their third).

Thirty minutes in and it was clear that ‘Horrible Bosses’ was a hybrid of The Hangover and American Pie and both girls were squirming in their seats. It was sadly becoming my understanding that ‘Fourteen plus’ in Geneva was upper level 18+ R in Australia.

I can handle the odd swear word but peppering each sentence with a sour sprinkling of MoFos and Constables was making things unnecessary ugly and sucking any semblance of wit or humour out of the experience. Seeing Ms Aniston proudly brandish some rather pornographic photos of her raping a knocked-out dental hygienist had me covering my eyes with my fingers and sliding down into the three day old pile of popcorn at my feet until I realised that I was the parent.

Me. Was it time to form a cat’s bum mouth of disapproval and pull the plug? Were the girls old enough for this nasty smut? Was I a thousand years old and the sole source of cultural ignorance and embarrassment? Was I selfish in wanting my baby girl to stay innocent a bit longer and not be bludgeoned with obscenities, even though most of the words would have been in common usage at her school? Diet coke spilled out of the can and dribbled down my leg in despair.

I felt a tiny tap on my knee. “Mum, if you want us to leave now, we can, you know,” Sapphire mouthed at me in the dark, her face illuminated by the so-called hilarious Serial Killer outside the bar scene.

“Yep. Let’s go. Nafeesa? Nafeesa sweetie, this just isn’t appropriate for you guys, so we have to leave.”

Sapphire put up a mildly believable act of being disappointed to save face in front of her friend who said, “If I was at home, at least my Mum could fast forward some of it.”

They walked back to our house together as I hung back to phone Nafeesa’s mother to explain. “That’s fine, I’ll come by and pick her up now if you like because my meeting has just finished.”

Yasmin’s car had pulled up in front of our building as we were nearing the side gate.

Ka-thonk! A cat had run out of our garden and was hit by a car. My eyes were on the writhing animal and not the license plate of the driver who clearly felt the impact but not the need to stop and care just a little.

The girls stopped in their tracks, horrified. The cat’s front legs were still moving in a slow pedalling motion as it lay dying on its side. “Is it still alive?”


Nafeesa covered her face and walked, crablike to her mother’s car. “She’s got her pet cat at home, Mum,” Sapphire reminded me. Ah yes, Valencia, which ironically means strong and healthy. Lost nearly all feeling in her back legs due to being squashed in the driveway and wore tiny nappies for three months during her recovery. A little sweetie though.

Snapping out of my reverie I realised that it was the first time that I’d ever seen anything larger than a fish die before. The cat was a fetching mixture of ginger, grey and white and I’d seen it many times in our gardens sunning itself by the lavender or cooling off in the undergrowth. Blood was seeping from the ears and its mouth was mangled. Poor little thing.

Yasmin called over to me and I leaned into the window of her car to explain my decision to leave the movie. “Seeing Colin Farrell’s face mashed up against a window in a drug-fuelled orgy might have been a bit over the top, let alone Jennifer Aniston insisting that she needed a good hard Eff from her blackmailed assistant...”

A young man pulled into the kerb on his scooter, fished a newspaper out of his backpack and very gently scooped the cat off th
e road.

Turning my back on Yasmin, I rushed over. “Oh I’m so sorry – is this your cat?”

“No. I work at the embassy over there,” he waved in the general direction, “but I saw what happened and I can’t leave it there on the road to be hit again and again.”

Nafeesa overheard this and buried her head in her mother’s shoulder.

I walked back in what I hoped was a confident swagger and patted the car door, trying to be cheerful. “Ah well, we’ll try for a better night out next time.”

Much later Sapphire sighed as we stood together in the lift, tired from asking people entering and leaving our building if they were missing a cat. “So that I didn’t have to keep blaming you all the time for being such an old fuddy duddy and making us leave the cinema, as we were walking home I tried to change the subject.”

“That seems like a good idea----“

“Yeah well I stuffed it up because I asked her what I should get Dad for his birthday and then she got all quiet and sad before my brain worked out that her father died of cancer three years ago.”

“Ah. It happens sometimes. Remember when I said to Jacqui that only Sad old Slappers wear anklets and then looked down to see that she had one on?”

She smiled and bent slightly downwards to lean into my chest. My arm automatically wrapped around her. Only three inches to go and we’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder.

The doors creaked open at the eighth floor. “I blame Jennifer Aniston for ALL of this. Let’s watch some Wallace and Gromit to cleanse our eyes and give Milly a cuddle. Maybe your father too, if he plays his cards right.”

Geneva is the world's centre for uber-quality watch making, clock design and fine-tuned precision. I wonder if I can ask them to slow down time just a little bit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Close ups

Apart from discussing the unfathomable mystery of why the Swiss only sell eggs in packs of ten and four instead of sixes and dozens or that their letter boxes are bright yellow instead of red and I seem to be the ONLY non-homeless person who ventures outside to walk their dog before brushing their hair or having a shower in the early morning I thought I'd add some pictures and see if you can guess what they are.

Besides, I'm waiting on a phone call from someone who had me recommended to them as a freelance 'tidier' up of ESL background report writings and seeing as nearly four months have rolled by without my bothering to find an answering machine it's best that I stay here for now.


I'm pretty convinced that my Mum had a dress with these flowers on them in around 1974 and that when she got sick of it she cut it up and sewed some table napkins. However, here the flowers are the non-wearing, shy and forgotten variety.......

.... because they're wallflowers. Okay, I'll stop that now. Having a narrow workbench and a shelf means that we no longer have the hotplates as our sole space to cut veges and plate up and the cracks in the floor tiles means that if Milly's bored she can just flop out and lick them any time she likes. Canine chup-a-chup if you will.

Who knew that Switzerland's Lac Leman had such exotic sea anemone flourishing in the depths?

No-one, because our towels need to be taken out of our windowless, fan-less and vent-less bathroom and hung out by the bedroom window to dry long enough to stop the mouldy damp pong that leaves you filthier after drying yourself than before you had a shower. However we think it's October when the concierge flicks on the central heating and the towels can happily stay above their little radiator and the neighbours beyond the trees are treated to an unobscured glimpse of me getting dressed.

These little buggers look good but hurt like hell.....

.....when they drop the equivalent of seven storeys out of the oak trees that form Milly's part of the apartment gardens and land on my head! The pods have little spikes in them that grip my hair with a ferocity not before demonstrated to me by anything in the plant world. And dammit, these chestnuts are not the ones that you can eat.

Many's the time I've stared deep into these cracks....

....before hacking at it with a bread knife and stuffing it with gruyere and proscuitto. This Swiss/French version of a 'ham and cheese sanger' is about the cheapest food option there is, not to mention delicious. However, leave it longer than eight hours and the Pain Genevose is harder than the trunks of the trees that rain down those spiky chestnut pods.

Our house has the basics but desperate times call for a visit to the kiddie craft section of the supermarket.

Four tubes of acrylic paint, three canvases and a brush set later and my 'modern interpretation of gum leaves' was excreted out. Anything to adorn our enormous, empty white walls. They've been hidden behind the sofa for the last month because Love Chunks hasn't got around to hanging them up: presumably symbolising his subtle but understood opinion of my painting abilities.

Blue spots. If only the eye would stay on the blue spots....

....that feature on the pillowcases and NOT on the humungous brown-tinged smoked glass mirror that has been permanently stuck to the wall. We have set the bed up so that we don't scare ourselves with our own reflections and certainly don't want to spend even a tiny moment thinking about why the previous owner thought that installing such a big arse slab of glass was a tasteful idea.

Somehow, I have to convince these to stay as leaving is going to make things unpleasant over the coming months.

Milly's fur coat is convinced that an Australian summer is approaching and thus, every time she flaps her ears or I pat her, a cloud of loose orange hairs is puffed up into the air before adhering to something dark like our lounge or my trousers. Swiss winter will invariably result in a coat being bought which she will loathe. We live in hope of her intelligence that she'll soon understand the link between Walkies and Wee-wees and enduring a strap-on tartan back warmer.

These are everywhere in Geneva and despite their age, people still use them.

Fresh water drinking spouts are quite decorative and are perfectly safe for refilling bottles. Half of them are human or horse height and the others are directly on the ground, specifically for dogs. All except Milly who is inexplicably frightened of them.

Tiny little zig zag edges mean that it is safely sealed.....

.....until I next wander into the kitchen and wonder what chocolate I'm going to have with my coffee. I may not officially review chocolate any more, but I still buy it, eat it, love it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

That brand new vomit smell

On Saturday morning, usually a day for sleeping in, Sapphire woke up early and excitedly. "It's today, isn't it?"

Love Chunks was smiling, the glint in his baby blues reflecting the emotions of his daughter.

I felt nauseaus and my Rexona, at 8am, was already letting me down.

In the fog and drizzle we took the numbers 14 and 17 trams past Plain Palais to the Peugeot dealership, paperwork in hand.

"Voila!" Marco whipped off a satin blue sheet covering our car. Our brand new car.

To all you European dwellers, I guess a Peugeot is what a Holden is to us Australians - no big deal. But to these particular Australians, it is an enormously huge deal.

Firstly, neither Love Chunks or myself - separately and together - have ever owned a brand new car. He and I both had cars from the early seventies during the 1980s and bought a nineties car that lasted all through the 2000s. We were both of the view that new was a waste of money, that you blew a couple of grand the second you drove it off the lot and, most of all, we simply couldn't afford one. Here though, with a UN-tax free deal and a good loan rate, we decided to live on the edge and go for it.

Secondly, the Peugeot is a manual, like most vehicles seem to be here. I learned how to drive on a manual (in 1985, or 'were TVs in just black and white then' according to my daughter's concept of ancient history) and my cars Rodney the 1971 Renault and Sucked Crunchie the 1973 burnt orange volvo were both manual drives. However during most of the nineties and all of the noughties I enjoyed the restful, no-use-for-the-left-hand carefree slackness of an automatic. Namely, Maggie the Magna, recently sold in May for the princely sum of $600.

Thirdly, it's a left hand drive designed to be driven on the utterly weirdly wrong - sorry, right - side of the road.

Fourthly, we don't have one of those fandangled Tom-Tom sat nav dooflanger thingies; merely LC's insistence that I direct us back home "but not through the city" using his iPad.

Five minutes later, we were stuck in the city; the wipers turning on every time LC turned a corner and my body slip-sliding around on the vinyl seats due to an unpalatable combination of sweat, anxiety and panic.

By the time we arrived home, Mr Migraine had set up residence behind my left eyeball and with an audible sigh of relief LC backed the car into our designated parking spot in the basement.

Sapphire had been uncharacteristically quiet during the unintendedly lengthy journey home but now decided it was the right moment to pipe up with, "Well, why don't we just leave it down here and just sit in it every now and then?"

I was all for it and spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, clutching at my head.

However today we were up early again. Geneva is quite literally dead on a Sunday with the original concept of the Sabbath taken very, very seriously. No clinking of glass bottles in the public recycling depots; no washing machines to be turned on in apartment blocks and no active gardening to be undertaken. In fact, technically all of those activities are illegal on a Sunday.

Unless church dominates your plans it seems as though you're expected to stay inside wearing felt slippers communicating only via sign language and mime for the entire day.

"It's the perfect time to get used to driving," LC decided.

Quite wisely, as it turned out. Very little traffic, drizzly weather that might have put some casual drivers off and us in no hurry to be any specific place at any specific time.

We drove around the entire boundary of Lac Leman - Switzerland, France and back again, with stops for coffee at a boulangerie and lunch at a tiny Port near Evian. The only actual Evian water tasted by any of us was in the puddles that Milly drank from as we walked.

"It drives so smoothly," LC observed.
"It's like you've always driven on the right hand side of the road, Dad," Sapphire said with genuine admiration.

"Wanna have a go, Kath?"

"NO no no no no no I'm not ready yet the car is too new, too shiny, too pretty, too dangerous I'll get us lost or put a big dent in it besides it's getting dark out and my head is still sore and No no no no no no no...."
"It's only two thirty-----"

Maybe tomorrow, on my own, I'll take it for an Old Lady Spin around the car park. Maybe.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sad tabs

Geneva has several English-language, online bulletin boards for the expat, non-French speaking residents in search of share accommodation, a ride to Italy, dog walking jobs or second-hand IKEA furniture.

Sapphire would not have met her best friend without it. Two weeks after arriving, I responded to an advert seeking someone to take over the lease of an apartment in Secheron: quite literally a tennis ball’s throw away from LC’s work place.

We didn’t get the place – Karen the renter loved us, but the regie (land agent) didn’t. No rhyme or reason behind it other than the power of the landlord is hugely strengthened by cripplingly stratospheric rents and a long queue of eager UN workers to pay them.

However, we did buy a superb dining table, six chairs, blender, ironing board and washing machine from the lovely Karen who didn’t think she’d be able to take much with her in her new WHO role in India. When cash was exchanged and the removalist guy stopped talking to me about Midnight Oil – “I am Swiss German, so I am open to new sounds” and actually delivered our furniture, we received a final email.

Her soon-to-be ex work colleague also had a twelve year old daughter. Also an only child, also attending the international school but at the city campus. ‘Here’s her email and phone number. Both the mother and the daughter are lovely people so don’t be afraid to make contact.’

It took me several hours of humming and hah-ing to write what I hoped was a breezy and inviting introductory email, which led to Mayada phoning me an hour later...

...three months on and the girls hang out with each other regularly, skype incessantly and now find themselves at the same campus, albeit in different classes. All thanks to several sentences extolling the virtues of a large balcony, two downstairs bedrooms and an entertainers’ kitchen.

The same site has been helpful in finding a holiday French tutor for Sapphire and myself. The lovely Roopa – a Sri Lankan lass who is fluent enough in English to now be studying Law there. Another win as I can now at least ask for the essentials like coffee, wine and where the toilets are, and read a lot of the public notices on the bus.

With the big and essential items now in our apartment, I thought it was time to see if G-locals could cough up any little bargains such as a bookshelf, stuff for the study, kitchen equipment or a filing cabinet.

MarkUK68 had several items on offer for not only a good price but – very unusually – was able to deliver them to the buyer. Such a relief after seeing too many ‘Before collecting the two Annebrod wardrobes and Malm king-sized bed with Tromso shelf, the buyer needs to dismantle them all so that they can be taken out of my attic apartment and down seven flights of stairs...’ type of advertisements.

True to his word, MarkUK68 delivered a 7 foot tall bookcase, bedside table and double-drawer filing cabinet not only to our door, but helped Love Chunks carry them inside and place them exactly where we wanted them. How’s that for ninety five francs?

Several weeks later on a drizzly day that found Sapphire happily at her new school and LC in Brussels for a meeting, I opened up our tea-chest of Aussie papers and gathered up the teetering pile of Swiss-related documents and set to work organising a filing system.

Teasing out the old labels with my fingers gave me a glimpse into Mark’s now on-sold old life.
Pension Plan – Petra
Pension Plan – Mark
Life Insurance
Building Society
House Purchase
Mortgage docs
Barclaycard – Petra
Barclaycard – Mark
University - Petra
Gym Membership – Petra
Sailing Club – Mark
School Info
Investment account – Conrad
Investment account – Annabel

They fluttered to the floor, forgotten for a few hours as I wrote my own labels and saw our loose papers disappear into order behind the drawers.

Sweeping up the detritus, Mark’s words returned. “I’ve just moved from a four bedroom house in Versoix to a one-bed in Aux Vives which is why I’ve got a lot of stuff to sell.” He paused for a moment. “I’m getting a divorce. Petra and the kids have gone back to England.”

I didn’t know what to say to that as he handed over a crinkled envelope. “Sorry about the used tabs in the filing cabinet but I found some spare labels for you.”

With a quick wave, he turned on his heel and strode out of the lift into the car park.

“Thanks...” I called out into the darkness, wondering whether it would have been more appropriate to have given him a big, long, wordless hug.

Monday, September 05, 2011


Genevans are daily shoppers it seems. With little bench space and mostly tiny kitchens, they like their bread fresh every day and purchase what they need for dinner that evening so that it fits into one shopping bag that can be carried on board the tram with minimum hassle.

Except for toilet paper, that is. These same small shoppers seem to like buying their bog rolls by the gross and I've often seen a passenger struggle to fit through the bus doors when tugging a plastic-wrapped multi-pack larger than our sofa.

Perhaps it's to reduce the public shame of flaunting one's personal brand of bathroom butt wipes to a once-a-year event.

Whatever the reason, on most occasions when I'm at Migros with my nanna cart and fold up bags I'll be standing behind someone purchasing a single croissant, two courgettes and - Whallumph! - the strength to lift and bung 144 toilet rolls on the conveyor belt.

My own method of shopping is proving to be rather difficult in this environment because I don't particularly want to spend every damn day at the supermarket and prefer to get it over and done with once a week. Or twice, if we're entertaining and want everything super-fresh.

The checkout staff aren't used to this. Nor are they used to using their arms beyond scanning each product and flinging it to their left. Don't be mistaken; I'm not expecting them to pack my bags but they're beeped through at such a rapid rate that it sees me panic slightly. An automated tennis ball machine operates more languidly than these Migros Mammas do.

I find myself bending over-and-up, over-and-up, over-and-up like an enormous pecking emu as I wildly fling everything into the nanna cart before the pile up falls over the edge. The checkout lady just sits there staring at me like I'm mildly entertaining but not actually a three-dimensional human being in front of her, sweating profusely and hearing several eggs crack in the carton when three tins of tomatoes are thrown in on top. As I'm trying to ignore the slow trickle of yolk over the half-price raspberry yoghurt six pack she'll address my arse: "Vous faire a une carte de migros?"

With sticky egg fingers I'll turn around, smile weakly at her disapproving face before wiping my hands on my jeans, rummaging around in my now pick-pocket (and Kath) unfriendly hand bag for the credit card.

Steak doesn't feature. At 60 francs a kilo and usually wrapped in single pieces we just can't justify buying it. Minced beef, I've sadly discovered, is not beef at all, but some form of hackfleisch that consists of three types of meat - one of which is usually horse. Pork gets a look-in when it's half price (26 francs a kilo) and chicken very regularly (22 francs). Proscuitto, at 9 francs per 100 grams, goes a very long way to adding flavour and interest to many meals - most of which feature a tin of tomatoes.

I'm aware that the prices are high in order to subsidise the non-sustainable swiss farming industry but can't comprehend why non-Swiss things such as shampoo, ball point pens, five-pack underpants and dog crunchies are eye-wateringly expensive as well.

And thus, this morning, I thought I'd bent-and-flung, bent-and-flung, bent-and-flung all of my groceries onto the conveyer belt before rushing to the other end to bend-and-fling, bend-and-fling, bend-and-fling them back into the nanna cart before Chuckle Trousers the Checkout Chook started catapulting the next customer's groceries into my pile when I noticed, nestled down in the dark depths of my fetching brown and pink flowery canvas cart a bottle of olive oil and three school lined writing pads.

The oil cost 6 francs and the pads 4 francs. For three very long seconds I contemplated leaving them there. Pretend I didn't see them. I'd never had my cart checked before, so why would it happen now?

But I didn't. "Je suis desolee madame," I wheezed and put them back on the conveyor belt to the annoyance of the woman behind me who'd already flopped down her vacuum sealed packet of rabbit kidneys and container of quark.

The temptation was there, though.

May the first and last time I steal anything be the last truffle left in the fridge*** and the second issue of the Official ABBA Magazine that I 'lost' after Barry H lent it to me in 1977. Sorry, Barry, but you'll be relieved to know that my evil ways are no more.

*** it doesn't count as stealing when:
a) it is chocolate or chocolate-related
b) it's in my own home; and
c) my family are aware of my addiction.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

First day - for the third time

Yesterday was supposed to be Sapphire’s first day at school, albeit an ‘info session’ in the afternoon before starting for real today.

We couldn't get her into the city campus - the one close by, near all the UN buildings like Love Chunks' workplace - because it was full and they sniffily informed me that they needed a years' notice instead of the paltry five weeks we gave them.

Therefore, we resigned ourselves to having Sapphire placed on the waiting list. "There are six kids ahead of her," I was told, when, against my better judgment, I rang again just so they'd know that we were still 'out there' and still keen.

In the meantime, we accepted a place at the very-difficult-to-spell (and even harder to pronounce) La Chataigneraie, a fair way out of town that would involve an hour long bus trip both ways for Sapphire at an additional cost to us of CHF 4000 per year.

Anyhoo, yesterday was the ‘info afternoon’ for new kids and their families and so she and I had already taken the tram into the central train station (whose reeking urine smell is a shocking contrast to the pristine streets everywhere else in Geneva) and were then waiting to take the train out to Coppet.

This journey was to be followed by a bus ride to the school and therefore cover all facets of public transport - tram, train and bus - and give me a much clearer idea of how much fun it was going to be for car-less me to get there should Sapphire ever be sick or miss her scheduled school bus or be called in for an evening parent teacher night.

Dreary thoughts of this were bogging about in my brain when LC rang. We’d been offered a place at the Nations campus *the very second* the train arrived – whoo hooooooo! My excited cry even scared off the sparrows who have been brave enough to land on my knee on occasion.

Several hours later, we arrived home. Sapphire’s head was swimming - seeing a high school timetable in her hot little hands for the first time probably frightened her more than the idea of being a 'new kid' but I was stoked. We can actually walk to this school and it's a more laid back campus that is only six years old, full of UN kids and nowhere near as posh. Put it this way: when I put in a rental limit of an already-scary CHF 5,000 per month for the La Chataigneraie school zone, nothing came up.

On the way to school this morning, I was sternly lectured the entire way and made to swear that I would NOT be funny or embarrassing, too friendly, weird, too loud or - heaven forbid - *be witnessed trying to kiss her goodbye*. And on NO ACCOUNT was I to walk inside the building with her.

So, just as I did as I was told and casually said 'see ya' and turned to leave, she grabbed my sleeve and whispered, "But you WILL be here waiting for me when school finishes, won't you?"

Yep and it'll be with Milly the dog. Just like in primary school.

She turned again. "Mum I have no idea of how we walked here, there are so many roads to cross, I'm going to forget, it's all so confusing and what if I get lost and my phone has a flat battery and-----"

Being mindful of the not-being-embarrassing-or-too-loud promise, I whispered, "I'll walk with you every day for as long as you want." Without a word, she turned and was lost in the throng of kids, parents, teachers and support staff.

I couldn't help but smile at this unexpected parental bonus of a smidgen more time to spend with my nervous, irascible, moody, smart, funny, hormonal, perceptive, beautiful daughter.