Friday, 9 February 2018

It's Fasnacht!

Manor has given up it's top floor to a scene of fancy dress craziness and there is a wealth of weird and wonderful costumes, masks and accessories right across town. It can only mean one thing. Yes, it's time for Fasnacht! Now, this particular seasonal event is a bit of a Marmite thing - you either love it or hate it. And boy, do we love it.

The Swiss love their traditions and carnivals and this all comes together nowhere better than at Fasnacht, which is great fun, the outfits are incredible - and sometimes rather scary - and all spectators are encouraged to dress up too.

Many of the characters in the parade are mischevious, throwing confetti over people, stealing accessories out of their hair and I have even seen a few teenagers picked up, slung over a shoulder and buried in a wagon of confetti! It is all great fun – everyone has a ball and my girls absolutely love it. Best of all, it is my eldest daughter’s birthday at the end of February so it always feels like an extension of her own celebration.

Bassersdorf Fasnacht takes place this weekend, with the large procession starting at 2.30pm.

Fasnacht officially begins in Winterthur with the Ham feast, kicking off a week long period of different, and sometimes rather surreal, events - including a three day and night party for those who can still party big time! But the highlight is definitely the large carnival which takes place through the city centre this year on Sunday, 18th February at 14:14 punkt.

There is also a Kinder Umzug at 2pm the following day - something we have never seen because in the past my daughters have been at school so we are looking forward to catching up with this one too this year.

And then of course if you can brave the crowds there is the mother of all Fasnacht carnivals in Basel, hailed as one of Europe's top 50 local festivals, details here.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Homebaked bread to nourish the stomach and soul

I’ve always hankered after the idea of making my own bread with the yearned for idea of that scrummy freshly baked bread smell wafting lovingly through the house. But after many failed attempts, where, although the aroma was there, my bread was as dense as a household brick, I gave up, feeling this was way beyond my meagre domestic talents.

But today all that changed! I can now make bread, thanks to a work colleague of Gray’s letting us in on the secret of the easiest bread recipe ever currently taking Switzerland by storm.

Well, actually, Gray first experienced this amazing process a couple of years ago on a Dad’s and Kids trip to Ticino. One of the dads whipped it up in a jiffy, with no kneading required. (However, it is a slow process, proving overnight, and then two hours for the second prove the next day - but effort wise it’s a sinch) It really is idiot-proof. Ha, although I guess I must mention that it did go a little wrong when Gray first made it because he didn’t use enough flour in the process and poured the final dough into a cold instead of a hot pan and it just stuck. But I’m pretty sure you won’t make the same mistake :) It really is a cracker, as recipes go.

Here’s the magic recipe:

130g Dunkelmehl
 300g Weissmehl
 350ml water
 1/4 tsp of yeast
 1 & 1/2 tsp salt

Simply mix the ingredients together into a damp dough and leave to stand overnight in a covered bowl.

The next day pour the dough out of the bowl onto a heavily floured surface and fold in the corners to make a round shape, turn it over in your (heavily floured) hands and place on a clean tea towel. Cover and let it rise for two hours. Then pour it into a heated cast iron pot.

Bake at 250C with lid for 30 minutes, then brown without lid for 10-15 minutes. And there you have it – a crunchy crust, airy crumb, and the simplest recipe in the world.

It doesn't look too promising at this stage, before the first prove but don't lose heart!

Looking much better now :)
Eh voila!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Classic reads from Winti's Give & Take shack

I love, love, love the Give/Take hut behind Manor and often drop stuff off and come out with a little gem in return. There is something quite intriguing about this little hut. You never know what you are going to find and you always have an interesting little conversation with someone else dropping stuff off at the same time. It’s the loveliest way to do a little something for someone else without much effort and my things always disappear fairly quickly. I’m hoping to get one established in our village sometime soon. We have had a few refugee families moving in recently and I think it would help them along a little too.

Anyway, back to Winterthur’s fab Give/Take hut. Yesterday I dropped off an inflatable Hello Kitty bed and came out with a couple of books in English – The Fourth Hand by John Irving and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I have never read Woolf in my life and feel it is a gap in my reading experience that I need to fill so was chuffed to bits to see this sitting there.

And then – lo and behold – if Google pops up today with a Doodle celebrating the lady herself – and 136 years since she was born. Although she died in 1941 at the tender age of 59, she is still acknowledged as one of the greatest writers ever. How amazing is that?

I love reading as much as I love writing but life is so busy these days I struggle to squeeze it in. At best, I manage to creep away from the Gogglebox with hubbie in the evening and crawl into bed half an hour earlier to curl up with a good book. Again, one of my many new year’s resolutions is to read a little every day.

Happy reading!

Monday, 23 October 2017

At the forefront of sustainable living

Our little village of Brütten is at the forefront of the march to reduce global co2 emissions with the creation of the first solar powered zero emission housing complex in the world!

On November 19, 2015, around 150 guests celebrated the ‘topping out’ ceremony when the structural work and timber work truss were erected and by last summer residents were able to move into the nine family sized zero-emission flats, which are not linked to any electrical, oil or gas connections – and not even wood is allowed as fuel.

Brütten is an ideal location as it lies 640 m above sea level and is above the fog line, as well as being on the main thoroughfare between Zürich and Winterthur.

To maximize the collection of solar energy, the most efficient solar panels are utilized to line the entire facade of the building, turning the building essentially into a power plant. Energy consumption is kept to a minimum using LED lights and A+++ household appliances.

Just one hour of sunlight is apparently sufficient to provide for a whole day's energy needs. However, as Brütten averages eight hours of sunlight in summer, the excess energy can be stored in batteries for short term use of three to four days. Alternatively, the photovoltaic energy can be converted into hydrogen for long-term storage of up to 25 days (often necessary in December and January to bridge the low sunlight gap)

The building also has a built-in information system helping the residents optimize their energy usage of warm water, lighting and heating, PCs and other electrical devices.

The architecture, designed by René Schmid Architekten, is an incredible example of great design and technique. The building is not only technically efficient but also beautifully designed with warm colours and rooms allowing plenty of sunlight.

Residents are also obliged to use energy saving transportation, comprising two motor vehicles: a car which runs on bio fuel and an electrical car powered by the building's photovoltaic equipment. Biological waste from the residents is transferred to a special bio fuel converter.

This building concept is based upon the principles of “collect, accumulate, save and conscientious energy usage” without any loss of comfort. Although no advertising was made, more than 100 rental inquiries were made before the flats (consisting of 7 x 4.5, 1 x 3.5, 1 x 2.5 rooms) were completed.

The apartment rents are very reasonable - with CHF 2500 for a 4.5 room apartment, which includes energy usage based on a bonus system. Tenants are forced to live a lifestyle with a low energy footprint as they only have as much energy as the building is able to produce and store. They quite literally are the pioneers of homes of the future.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Breastfeeding portrait a winner

I love, love, love this year’s National Portrait Gallery winner - Breech by Grimsby born Benjamin Sullivan, illustrating the artist’s wife Virginia breastfeeding their eight-month-old daughter Edith. Benjamin wanted to celebrate the love that had come into their lives and reflect on the worrying time the couple faced during Edith’s birth. Only 3-5% of mum’s experience a Breech birth so I can only imagine the anguish the couple went through at a time that is scary enough all by itself.

The broadcaster Kirsty Wark, who was on the judging panel, said: “The woman is tired. She is in love. Her life has changed for ever. We know her.” Indeed we do.

I love the way the mother is perched on the stool, naked apart from an old favourite dressing gown which has just been hurriedly hitched open to allow a demanding baby access to that source of nourishment and comfort all tiny tots crave. It is a fantastic snapshot of bittersweet reality that every human being on this planet needs to see - the extreme fatigue and yet the monumental love of a mother. And that amazing moment when a harried, overworked, slightly stricken (we’ve all felt those – ‘can we really do this?’ moments of extreme doubt) mother feels the baby’s mouth latch on and all those worries fade away into the most incredible explosion of bliss for both parties.

There is a huge problem in the UK - it has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. At three months, only 17% of mothers are breastfeeding their babies exclusively and only 1 in 200 women are breastfeeding after they reach their first birthday. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend just breast milk for six months, with breastfeeding to form part of a baby’s diet up to two years of age.

However, thankfully, things are beginning to change – there have been lots of protests, fuelled by the sensational media, against the idiots that think breastfeeding is ‘unnatural’ (Although I personally think we should just ignore these idiots completely) And we have seen lots of photographs in the media of very pretty celebrities, with full make-up and immaculate figure and clothes, breastfeeding in public. I applaud them all - but as we all know, breastfeeding certainly isn’t glam.

The thing with breastfeeding – and the wonderful painting Breech demonstrates this – is that you are a slave to your baby for the first year. The picture captures that moment so incredibly well – when you are in the middle of something else, tired and grouchy, and your baby needs you. You are in demand constantly. Tiny babies need to feed every two hours or so – and unfortunately this just does not fit in with most modern women’s routine – this Guardian article explains the crux of the problem in more detail.

I would love to see a breastfeeding revolution in my lifetime. And this year’s National Portrait Award winner takes one tiny step towards making that happen.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Watching legend Mo Farah in action at the Letzigrund

Phew, it’s been a bit hectic here lately. I’m doing a lot of catching up with my blog – and I have lots of news. Poppy had an amazing time at the Diamond League athletics championship at the Letzigrund Stadium at the end of last month. It was fab timing as it was the first Thursday in the first week back at school when everyone is usually down in the doldrums.

So on Thursday 24th August after a whole day of school Poppy headed out with just 9 other pupils and her teacher to the Letzigrund. She was so lucky to be involved. Only 8 schools in the entire Canton of Zurich were invited to take part. And just 10 pupils from those 8 schools! (The selection process was carried out on Sports Day – it was the fastest 10 from the middle school) Poppy was so excited.

The class also took part in a relay race infront of the entire audience of 20,000. Then they got to watch the event in VIP seats near the front just by the start of the race line. And to cap it all, Poppy got to see Mo Farah win his final ever track race – and when she gave him the thumbs-up, he did the Mo-Bot in return. What a complete and utter legend.

There were fireworks, drama and free burgers. She didn’t get home until 11.30pm but didn’t have to go into school the next day until after pausa (10.20am) What a fantastic experience.

Mo Farah wins his last ever 5000m track race

Friday, 1 September 2017

I feel a little political fervour coming on

I cannot ignore the bad way the UK and its politics are in and have felt compelled to use my writing skills to try and work my way through the pain I feel about the people I love and their suffering. There has been a great deal of tragedy taking place in the UK recently, with three terror attacks on Manchester and London, on top of an extreme and uneccessary period of austerity which the Tory government has inflicted on its people for far too long.

There has been a glint of hope in the form of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn which I have been campaigning vigorously for on Twitter. He achieved great things at the last General Election, unfortunately not enough to form a majority government but it feels like change is in the air and he is at the crux of it. Just before the election I wrote a poem and here it is:

Please vote for my future

I'm 10, I'm at school, I'm nobody's fool.
(Or so granny says)
I spend my days learning, my head crammed with stats,
With many a test thrown in (I've done my 7 plus SATs)

I'm not sure what's going on in the world today,
There's a president Trump and our Prime Minister's May.

I don't know about politics but it all seems a mess.
I see a world full of war and oodles of stress,
Treeless forests, our seas full of plastic,
Depression, homelessness, talk full of bombastic.
Traffic spews pollution onto the streets,
The trains are late, the future looks bleak.

Our school dinners are being taken away,
Dad's not got a proper job (or so mum says)
She's off to the food bank tonight, which I find quite perplexing,
I thought banks gave us cash, not a bag with Tex-Mex in.

My brother's got no job, he spends his days lazing around.
He has a first in maths but his £40,000 debt makes him frown.
He's depressed like aunt Lil though she had a job.
Forty years in the police but now she's a snob.

I hear there's a chance that all this could come good.
A man called Jeremy wants to be PM and I think that he should.
Blue is the colour of sadness, gloom, dejection.
Red equals joy, love, smiles and action.
We need change and we need it soon.
Please vote for my future on the 8th June.