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.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Wimbledon time

 I am loving Wimbledon this year. Well, I love it every year but this year I have actually got to sit down and watch full matches as my daughters have grown a little older and are in school in the afternoon a little more often. I cannot remember the last time I got to watch a full blown live Wimbledon match as I used to work too back in the UK. Jeez, it was probably 25 years or so ago when I was at college! So yes, it is a pretty special Wimbledon year for me.

And I love it. I was brought up on it as a kid – my mum was tennis mad. And Wimbledon was always an occasion when we would feel particularly close together through my tricky teen years. She even knocked off work early to watch with me after school! I’m a bit gutted that we never actually went along to the holy home of tennis but anyway we watched it on the TV pretty much every day solid for two weeks. I would get home from school and join her on the sofa to avidly watch the Greats of my childhood - Jimmy Connors, Bjon Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf… the list is long and holds such exciting memories of my childhood.

And now I am in Switzerland and get to cheer on Roger Federer too! What a tennis great. And a true gentleman. And then there’s Andy Murray (a Brit!) and Nadal – (ooo those muscles…) The Swiss love to watch their tennis champs compete in the pub so I’m also enjoying the very unusual experience of watching in a tennis fan community – see last post.

So today I am made up to see Brits Andy Murray and Jo Konta go through to the quarter finals. This is a huge accomplishment as she is the first British woman to go through to the quarter finals since 1984. I loved 1984 – one of my very favourite childhood years. Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert at Wimbledon, I was 12, I felt I was coming of age – went to ‘big school’ and had lots of friends. It felt like a golden time at the movies – Ghostbusters, Karate Kid, The Terminator…so yes I will be reliving this golden year tonight in celebration of Jo Konta’s success today. I’ll be cracking open the popcorn, drinking ginger beer – can’t find Dandelion and Burdock here – and watching Karate Kid.

I would love to hear about favourite movies, tunes, moments from 1984 from any fellow 40 somethings out there – let’s celebrate together!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Swiss love of sport (and a beer)

I love how much enthusiasm the Swiss have for their sports stars and teams, whether the sport is hockey, football or tennis. And they love to enjoy a beer at the same time. So you will find them propping up the bar in the pub cheering for Federer at Wimbledon as often as you will find them cheering on the Swiss Hockey or football team in the World Cup. I find this extremely refreshing. My only experience of sport in pubs in the UK was of football.

And so it was last Friday, hubbie and I found ourselves in the pub - making the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy a beer while both daughters attended a birthday party – enjoying the match between Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray in the semi-final of the French Open.

I should have been cheering for Murray but I wasn’t. Murray annoys me somehow. I enjoy watching his skill but I don’t enjoy watching his character. He’s so serious and he gurns. And he’s Scottish of course (having a very good Scottish friend I greatly enjoy the friendly animosity these two nationalities have for each other – my friend would never cheer for an English player at Wimbledon) And for me, Wawrinka is far more watchable, in every way ;) He was rampant on Friday, trading blows with Murray and digging in his heels until the bitter end. What a game it was. He served with more potency than Murray, seven aces to one, and his defensive game has greatly improved.

I cheered along with my Swiss companions, and was over the moon when Wawrinka won, over five sets in four and a half hours. Murray heads immediately for home to prepare to defend his titles at Queen’s and Wimbledon, as well as the points that leave him unchallenged for a little while yet at the top of the world rankings.

Unfortunately the 32-year-old couldn’t grab a French Open victory by maintaining the same assault against the incredible  Rafael Nadal. He was demolished at the last post in a brutal one-sided final on Sunday – the score: 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

The triumph gave Rafael Nadal his tenth French Open title which also earned the Spaniard a 15th Grand Slam crown. His collection of Slams now stands just three behind his great Swiss rival Roger Federer.

Ever the gentleman, Wawrinka honourably praised his opponent: "There is nothing to say about today, you were too good," he admitted.
   
"What you are doing in tennis is unbelievable.It's always been an honour to play against you, two Grand Slam finals now, congratulations to you for your career and your team."

Monday, 15 May 2017

Swiss to vote on 'Energy Strategy 2050'

Swiss voters will have their say this Sunday (May 21st) on the government’s ‘energy strategy 2050’.

Spearheaded by Swiss president and energy minister Doris Leuthard and drawn up partly in reaction to the 2011 nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the energy strategy 2050 aims to gradually withdraw Switzerland from nuclear power and increase its use of renewable energy sources.

Under the plans no new nuclear power plants will be built in Switzerland and the five that do exist – including the world's oldest operating reactor, Beznau I – will be decommissioned at the end of their technically safe operating life.

The strategy will focus on exploiting hydropower and other renewable resources such as wind and solar power, as well as increasing energy efficiency by offering tax incentives for energy-efficient building works and tightening emissions rules for passenger vehicles.

These measures require changes to the existing energy law and the first set were approved by the Swiss parliament last September.

Swiss canton of Valais launches new local currency

From now on you can pay for purchases in Valais not only in Swiss francs but in farinets, the new ‘local currency’ of the canton. The farinet was launched at the weekend in the city of Sion. It comes in eight denominations – 1,2, 5, 10, 13, 20, 50 and 100 – and has the same value as the Swiss franc.

So far around 100 shops and businesses in the canton have agreed to accept the farinet for payment, including cafes and restaurants, small businesses and independent traders. Shoppers can exchange their francs for farinets in various official bureaux de change including at the tourist office in Sion and the markets of Sion, Sierre and Martigny.

Participating businesses – listed on an interactive map – will accept either full or partial payment in farinets.

The concept of a local currency has existed since the 1980s. By restricting its use to a limited geographical area it encourages shoppers to spend locally, so boosting the local economy and favouring small businesses and artisans.

The farinet is the Switzerland’s second local currency after the léman launched in Geneva in 2015. The léman is equivalent in value to the euro and can be used in more than 200 participating businesses in the Lac Léman region including Lausanne and neighbouring France.

Around 5,000 local currencies exist worldwide, including the Brixton pound and the Bristol pound in the UK and the eusko in the Basque country.

Guardian article about the popularity of the local currency in the UK.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Zurich: most expensive city for a date

I’m so glad I’m not ‘on the market’ here in Switzerland as its banking hub has been ranked the most expensive location to date the girl or guy of your dreams.

For at least the second year running, Zurich has taken top place for the most expensive city for a date – cab rides, dinner for two at a pub, soft drinks, two movie tickets and a couple of beers  – according to Deutsche Bank’s special report ‘Mapping the World’s Prices 2017’.

In the city home to both UBS and Credit Suisse, an average night out costs the equivalent of £151.40 – 147% more than seventh-ranked New York.

The aim of the research is to provide insight into whether or not exchange rates do actually adjust to correct large price differentials across countries and time, as conventional economic theory suggests they should – all else being equal. 

However, what this research ignores is the fact that everyone gets paid so much more than they do in other countries – and this leads me onto the blindingly obvious point that the best place to bag your prince charming is in Zurich – a heaving wallet (and usually very respectful outlooks) should suggest a substantial amount of future happiness.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Swiss Solidarity fundraising for famine victims in Africa

The UN reports that the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War is unfolding in Africa. Swiss Solidarity and its partner relief organizations has launched an appeal for donations and 1m Swiss francs has already been raised. Today (11th March) Swiss Solidarity and the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SRG SSR) has organised a major fundraising 24 hour campaign to help the victims of famine in Africa.

The national fundraising day is being organized by Swiss Solidarity and the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SRG SSR) and is supported by Swiss Solidarity’s partner relief organizations, an association of private radio stations (‘Privatradios pro Glückskette’), and other private media outlets. Numerous fundraising events have also been organized by the public.

From 6am this morning until midnight, more than 300 volunteers in four SRG SSR studios in Zurich, Chur, Lugano and Geneva will receive donation pledges via telephone.

Swiss Solidarity's partner relief organizations are already operating in Africa, but there is not enough money to continue their work in helping the local population. In South Sudan, where access to the worst hit regions is severely restricted, HEKS, Medair, Caritas Switzerland, the Swiss Red Cross and Terre des hommes – helping children worldwide are providing emergency relief to several thousand people, distributing food, water and medical aid. In Somalia, where the situation has deteriorated recently owing to a cholera epidemic, Save the Children, ADRA and Medair are providing relief. In Nigeria, Save the Children is helping large groups of refugees, using individual sums given by Swiss Solidarity.

Ways to make a donation:
  • Online at www.swiss-solidarity.org
  • Via your mobile with the Swiss Solidarity app
  • With post office account 10-15000-6 (with the text “Famine”) 
  • With Swiss Solidarity payment also available at all post offices. 
  • On Twitter you can also raise money simply by retweeting #SwissSolidarityForAfrica with a photograph.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Join Zurich Children's Libraries for free

@PBZ Sihlcity
My 10-year-old daughter is a prolific reader, in English and German, which I am keen to encourage for as long as I can. However, she much prefers to read in English so we are constantly hunting down ways to get hold of new books she can devour. We love libraries, which thankfully still seem to be very popular here in Switzerland. Poppy has read her way through the local village library and the library at Winterthur so we needed to head somewhere new.

I thought, where will the biggest collection of books be? Surely Zurich’s main library. Boy, was I wrong. Yesterday, we visited said library – on Muhlegasse, just off Neiderdorfstrasse – which was in a beautiful old building. As we made our way in we were stopped at the door by a security lady (who was really sweet and apologetic) and told we had to put our bags in a locker downstairs, which you needed a 2fr for (fortunately there was a change machine) Then my daughters decided they needed the toilet. So after half an hour of faffing around we eventually got inside the library – to find there were no books - immediately evident anyway. There were lots of people reading and studying but the books seemed to be an afterthought. We hunted around a little, climbing many stairs up to the top floor – where we eventually found some books. However by then I felt far too conspicuous with the only two children in the library alongside me and by now we were getting a few slightly irritated looks, so I gave up and sheepishly slinked out again, with two very fed up daughters in tow, muttering about a completely wasted hour. Fortunately I spotted the information desk and asked about children’s books, to be met with an amused smile and told that perhaps the ‘Pestalozzi Bibliothek’ 200 metres down the road would be more suitable.  

So we began another half-hearted hunt – and then up popped the Pestalozzi – formally the PBZ - which is actually a library dedicated to children! And get this - it’s free to join for all children up to the age of 16. (I think there is also an adult section and adults can join for 40fr) The library was down some gorgeous wooden stairs tucked away in a corner, making it feel very secret – and then you arrive in a brightly lit, spacious underground grotto full of books, comics, CDs and films. My daughters LOVE this place. There were books galore – and if there is a particular item that you would like to borrow, you can make a purchase suggestion and the library will consider buying the item - double whammy. There are lots of events taking place throughout the year, including those I have mentioned below.

And best of all – it is one of 14 dotted around the city, including at Sihlcity and Oerlikon – and you can return your books to any one of them. This works out nicely for us as we often visit the cinema at Sihlcity. I highly recommend this place – the English language book section was small but had a good, diverse selection – and of course there are plenty of other libraries we are now able to explore. Happy reading!

Up and coming events at PBZ libraries:

Easter Story, PBZ Sihlcity Mall, Erdgeschoss
For children from 4 years
Date: 15.04.2017
Time: 14.30 und 15.30

Reading in Riesbachs Garten, PBZ Riesbach
12 – to 16 authors can present their own short stories.
Date: 24.06.2017
Time: 2 pm

Parent-Child Coding Course, PBZ Affoltern
Children, together with an adult companion can playfully discover the digital world, creating their own computer or programming a dance figure.
Date: 06.05.2017 to 10.06.2017 (on five Saturdays)
Time: 9am until 10.30am

PBZ library website

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Am Römerholz: A treasure trove of art

I’ve been to some amazing art galleries around the world – The Uffizi in Florence, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, The Prado in Madrid, to name but a few. But nothing prepared me for my visit to a certain art gallery in Winterthur yesterday.

Am Römerholz is the former residence of  Oskar Reinhart (1885-1965) who was born into an old family of Winterthur merchants. Inheriting his father Theodor’s devotion to art, he became a dedicated art collector once his duties to the family firm were relaxed at the age of 39 in 1924. Oskar also bought Am Romerholz at this time to house his expanding collection. He then lived in this villa until his death in 1965, surrounded by his beloved works of art. However, it was always his intention that the collection should ultimately benefit the community and in 1940 he donated his holdings of Austrian, German and Swiss art to the town of Winterthur, which has been housed since 1951 in the Museum Oskar Reinhart in the centre of town. In 1958, seven years before his death, he bequeathed the remaining part, together with the Am Römerholz villa, to the Swiss Confederation, which opened it to the public in 1970 - and it was this particular collection I went to see.

Hermann Hubacher Daphne and Chloe 1940-43
The sun was shining as I set out with my two daughters from Winterthur Bahnhof to walk to Am Römerholz, a 20 minute journey which actually took more like an hour, as we made a few wrong turns. The last five minute walk up a pretty steep hill is however signposted and the gates of the villa (signalled by three posters of paintings set in among the trees) are in a wooded place which feels quite mysterious and magical.

It all feels very understated as you pass through the gates which I love. Poppy actually asked if we’d made a mistake and were entering someone’s house. I said we were but it was no mistake, smiling at the idea that someone would leave their home and all in it that they loved for future generations like me to enjoy. Before we entered, we caught sight of gorgeous little sculptures of bears decorating an old stairway up to a now unused terrace. I made my way gingerly up the stairs and as I surveyed the little steps which now descended on either side into an overgrown wood, with a shiver I experienced an immediate sense of life 100 years ago and the sheer pleasure this little terrace would have brought to its users.

Renoir After the Bath 1913
We then opened a door into the little foyer where two smiles received us. I paid my 15fr (children go free) and the very nice lady behind the desk gave the girls audio guides (again free for children but adults must pay) and gave a comprehensive demonstration on how to use them. The girls were immediately intrigued and felt very important. A good start for an art-loving mum hoping for a couple of hours in a gallery with children of short-lived attention spans.

We spent three hours (!) making our way around this beautiful villa and its grounds. And I was spellbound at the sheer abundance of artistic treasures on show there. It was as if Oskar Reinhart could see into my art loving soul and had purchased each and every piece to please me! On entering you are greeted by the most gorgeous Renoir painting of a woman drying herself (I think his wife) After the Bath (1913) To the right of this, placed in all it's gorgeous chunky glory - Artiside Mailol’s The Mediterranean - oozing sensuality. Such a breath of fresh air in contrast to our thin-obsessed society of today.

Renoir Mother and Child 1916
I could talk like this about each and every piece in the exhibition, featuring a wealth of delights from Picasso, Van Gogh, Courbet, Toulouse Lautrec, Daumier, and glorious Renoir after Renoir after Renoir (I do love Renoir) But there were pieces by Courbet, so sensual and erotic, that I had never before witnessed, as well as beautifully vibrant pieces by Van Gogh which he painted while in hospital in Arles. I was very aware that many of these masterpieces are little known treasures, as Oskar was very firm that these pieces should never go out on loan.

And then, the absolute climax of my journey of awe and wonder around this gallery was a little bronze by Renoir – I didn’t even know Renoir worked in bronze – of a lady in a hat and coat breastfeeding, entitled Mother and Child. This little piece I later found out followed on from a painting Renoir had made of his wife breastfeeding their first child. Many years later, after his wife had died, he again came across this painting and decided to use it as the theme for a sculpture to commemorate his beloved wife. And with the help of Richard Guido, he did – and that very sculpture was right there in front of me. Wow. Moments like this I truly treasure.

We strolled around the lovely little formal garden and ate our sandwiches in a shady corner, played games on the lawn and then enjoyed chocolate cake ‘afters’ at the café (with a little glass of Pinot Noir for mummy) The café atmosphere was wonderful, with a large party of seniors enjoying a table full of food and wine outside in the sunshine. It didn’t take much imagination to see a young Oskar Reinhart doing the same with his art loving friends in the distant past. I took a few covert photos of the merry making in the dappled sunshine, hoping to recreate a Renoir-esque painting of the scene at a later date (I can but dream…)

We went home, trotting down the hill, chatting and giggling after our visit to Am Römerholz. The No.10 bus picked us up several minutes into our walk and deposited us outside the Oskar Reinhart Museum in Stadthausstrasse five minutes later. Thank you Stadtbus Winterthur. Thank you Oskar Reinhart. What a guy.

Am Romerholz website.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Public transport better than a Porsche

I had to laugh when I came face to face with the new Stadtbus Winterthur advert from ZVV this morning. It is comparing the city buses to a drive in a car with both class and speed. And you know, these buses are so slick and so quick that the claim is spot on. The bus lane and bus favouring traffic lights means that our bus goes whizzing past the queues of traffic at rush hour. Which is how it should be.

I can literally step out of my door at 8am in the morning after seeing the girls off to school and be entering the classroom of my Migroschule Deutschkurs half an hour later at 8.30 when my class begins. I could never, ever do that in my home country. It really is amazing. I am a huge, huge fan of the public transport system here - it just WORKS. Bravo ZVV!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Celebrating Art on International Women's Day

The art galleries of Winterthur are celebrating Women's Day by offering free admission to women for the day. Am Römerholz, on the edge of the city, is an incredibly stunning art collection of Oskar Reinhart who left behind around 600 works of art when he died in 1965. The works are housed within a glorious estate, the former home and gardens of Reinhart. At present there is a wonderful exhibition about the Hidden Treasures of the collection, featuring works by greats such as Gustave Courbet. What a joy to see these beauties. The exhibition continues util 23rd April.

I also love Winterthur Kunsthaus which houses a host of cracking masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Pissarro, Sisley and Monet, as well as the monumental Rodin sculpture, Pierre de Wissant.

International Womens Day: www.internationalwomensday.com

Am Römerholz: www.bundesmuseen.ch

Winterthur Kunsthaus: www.kmw.ch

Fasnacht fantastic

Phew, finally caught up with my blog. We've been busy checking out the Fasnacht carnivals this year. Each one has it's own unique atmosphere and traits. Lucerne was a jaw dropping spectacle with what seemed like the entire city dressed up in a huge range of outlandish clothes. The parade featured warrior wild boars (not real) horses (real) and a few political gibs, mainly towards the new president of the US (in one case featuring something very unpleasant attached to his feet!)

A few days later we went to Bassersdorf, a local village nearby, which was different again, and featured music galore, with all the bands performing on the roundabout podium after the parade. We then finished with Winterthur on Sunday, always a favourite of ours, with splendid costumes and great performers.

The weather was beautiful this year and we enjoyed the sun on our backs while soaking up the carnival atmosphere. Enjoy the pics.











Wednesday, 8 February 2017

It's almost Fasnacht - time to party!

@SallyAnnEgerton (http://sallyegerton.blogspot.ch/)
There are a few shady looking characters popping up in windows and odd places around Winterthur. Manor has gone to town with half a floor devoted to fancy dress, wigs and oversized glasses. It can only mean one thing - the imminent arrival of Fasnacht.

The Swiss love their traditions and carnivals - and most of all they love dressing up and role playing. And this all comes together nowhere better than at Fasnacht. It is such great fun, the outfits are incredible - and sometimes rather scary - and all spectators are encouraged to dress up too.

@sallyannegerton
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.

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 for us is the large carnival which takes place through the city centre from 2.15pm on Sunday, 5th March. For more information and all other events surrounding Fasnacht in Winterthur, visit the website here.

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, taking place on the Monday after Ash Wednesday: Baseler Fasnacht.

(I've been having fun painting our favourite Fasnacht characters - I hope you enjoy them :)

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Don't panic!

Tomorrow (Wednesday 1st Feb)  Switzerland will carry out the annual testing of its nationwide civil defense siren system just after lunch – and if you are not expecting it, this comes as quite a shock!
 
The Swiss government maintains a network of around 7,200 sirens across the country as a public warning system for use in case of a national emergency, such as a natural disaster or breakdown of a nuclear power plant.  The sirens were originally established to warn of bomb threat during WWII. They were also relied upon throughout the Cold War when Switzerland feared being caught in the crossfire of a nuclear attack, and has been kept ever since.
 
There are two types of warning sirens. The first, indicating general disaster, is a continuous oscillating siren lasting around a minute. The second, used to warn people who live beneath dams of  impending water-related catastrophe, is a series of 12 bursts of 20 seconds each at ten-second intervals. You can hear samples here.
 
They are tested on the first Wednesday of February each year. The general alarm will be tested at 1.30pm for around half an hour. The water alarm test follows at 2.15pm in applicable areas.
 
However, if you hear the alarm and it’s NOT the first Wednesday in February, we’re in trouble. In the case of the general alarm, the government’s Office for the Protection of the Population (FOCP) advises that you listen to the radio, follow instructions and tell your neighbours to do the same. If you live below a dam and you hear the water alarm, there's no time to wait for instructions – just run!
 
The government is developing a more up-to-date system - a smartphone app that would activate a push notification in case of disaster or terrorism. The Alertswiss system is already in use but a new, more sophisticated version should be ready by the end of this year and will be rolled out across the country in 2018.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

It's all bridges to me

Bebe’s theme at school this term is bridges. ‘How bloody uninteresting’ was my initial thought. But of course, for my daughter, who has inherited her dad’s logical engineering genes, and who’s favourite plaything in the world is Lego, she is very excited about it. And she couldn’t wait to do her ‘optional’ homework of creating her own bridge out of any material and taking a photograph of it into school. She created a beautiful bridge out of coloured Lego bricks yesterday and I have just printed out a big glossy photograph of it for her to find when she returns from school for lunch.

Because this is one big thing I have learned about being a parent. To rejoice in what my children enjoy doing and celebrate their creations. Despite having a super busy day I would never have forgotten to print out that photograph because I know how much it means to her. And I know how much she will enjoy presenting it to her teacher and classmates.

She has an afternoon off this afternoon and we will put a half hour aside to look at famous bridges in my 30-year-old Encyclopedia (even though I would rather be supping a coffee and scanning Facebook)

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

New Year visit to Zentrum Paul Klee

Happy New Year!

We got 2017 off to a great arty start. On Friday I went with my two daughters to Bern where we visited Zentrum Paul Klee. This stunning building, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano (who also designed The Shard) was opened in 2005 and dedicated to the individual, life and work of Klee (1879–1940) acknowledged as one of the pivotal artists of the 20th century.

This masterpiece in architecture in no small part owes its existence to Livia Klee-Meyer, Paul Klee's daughter-in-law, who in 1997 donated her inheritance of almost 690 works to the city and canton of Bern. The generous gift came with the condition that a ‘Paul Klee Museum’ should be realised by the end of 2006 at the latest. Bright lady.

With around 4,000 pieces, Zentrum Paul Klee houses the largest collection (40%) of Klee’s work. This architectural homage to his life, rising sensuously from the earth, comprises three ‘hills’ of steel and glass, transforming the entire area into a landscape sculpture.

Located on a beautiful piece of land, east of the city, the premise was to combine nature and architecture in an exciting relationship. Early on it became clear to the architect Piano that Klee had ‘a too broad, too large breath’, for him to be locked up into a ‘normal building’. Zentrum Paul Klee should not only be a ‘Place of remembrance’, but an interchange between encounter, relaxation and enjoyment drawing on Klee’s numerous activities as painter, musician, teacher, writer and philosopher. As a result each of the three hills has its own task. The North Hill is used for the practice of art education, for music, the conferences and the workshops, the Middle Hill for displaying the collection and the changing exhibitions, the South Hill for research and administration.

The snow added drama to our visit on Friday – a blanket of white caressing the undulating curves of the museum and providing a superb quality to the light and space at the south end of the building, where we happily spent most of our time.

On arrival, we first headed downstairs to the underground level to experience the current exhibition Paul Klee and the Surrealists, an exploration of Klee’s relationship with Surrealist artists in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Created in co-operation with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, it includes a large number of works by Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Hans Arp, Alberto Giacometti, André Masson and Salvador Dalí.

My girls were offered paper and pencils at the door and happily spent an hour sketching various pictures and enjoying the audio exhibits through headphones. It was an interesting layout and my eldest daughter asked plenty of questions, alongside the expected criticism that some of the drawings were ‘a bit rubbish and she could do better.’ I admitted I could see why she came to that conclusion but did my best to explain that Klee was not interested in painting exactly what was in front of him. His aim was to convey so much more. Poppy seemed to take this on and even went on to point out pictures that she really liked and give reasons why! I was amazed, this was the most interactive my daughters have ever been in a gallery. And I feel the whole design of the building helped.

We left the exhibit – the underground location helps to preserve the drawings – and once back upstairs the light and space was invigorating. We spent another hour in my favourite section – the library – curled up on various cushions scattered across the permanent Lang/Baumann exhibit, an imaginative sculpture comprising seating and cushions which could be moved around. Poppy found this very exciting and soon picked a perfect spot, high up on the sculpture.

I was transfixed by the huge panes of glass framing the snow scenes of everyday life taking place outside - people strolling, dogs lolloping, children cavorting. Magnificent steel curves adorned the view with their rise and fall, embracing its visitors and making them feel an integral part of this living, breathing masterpiece. Sprawled across the cushions the girls found out about Klee and his taste in classical music, playing excerpts of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn on a couple of tablets which had been left on the cushions to be discovered. Poppy was especially impressed with the fact that Klee had a cat called Bimbo whose pictures were included!

We enjoyed a yummy pastry and drink at the café on the North side before taking our leave but unfortunately didn’t have time to seek out Klee’s Burial place and the sculpture park before we had to make our way home.

But we will be back. I love the whole layout and premise of Zentrum Paul Klee. It is super airy, relaxed and casual about its passion for art appreciation and education, which is of course the best way to engage people – especially children. Younger visitors actually have their own Kindermuseum Creaviva with an interactive exhibition and regular workshops.

This sensual living, breathing monument does indeed draw on the essence of Klee as painter, musician, teacher, writer and philosopher. What a fabulous legacy for an artist to leave behind.

Admission – adults CHF 20 Children 6–16 CHF 7 Family ticket (1 adult + children 6-16) CHF 27 (Thanks to Coop the exhibition admission for children and adolescents up to 16 years is free every Sunday)

Getting there: Bus No.12 from Bern Hauptbahnhof