Pancakes and Electric Toothbrushes
Now please do not judge, but it is rather cold here in Geneva, which is in Switzerland. I know it is the morning, but I thought a coffee with a little plum schnapps might be just the boost that I need. They call it Kafe Luz, I call it yummy. Just in case I get the munchies I am having a rather nice pancake with a chocolate and nut filling. Swiss bliss. I have spent the morning looking for items requested by Muriel, principally a cuckoo clock and believe it or not an electric toothbrush. This has just been invented by Dr Philippe Guy Woog for a company called Broxo. It fits into the same sort of wall socket as an electric razor. Not of course that I use an electric shaver, Muriel considers them too flash and she says “they carry the suggestion of a man travelling in ladies’ underwear”.
People Have Made Geneva
I am rather enjoying being on the shores of Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as they call it. One needs to be wrapped up warm for the north wind, or “bise”, can be harsh. In truth its geographical position is rather challenging and therefore it owes its success to the endeavours of its people. It has been in the hands of the Burgundians and Emperor Charlemagne.
In the 14th century it had two devastating fires, but despite this in 1478 had a printing press and a Protestant revolution with an English language bible. Rousseau was born here and some of the earliest watches made. In 1828 it had one of the first Public Welfare Societies and perhaps this laid the ground for more ambitious schemes for humanity such as the Red Cross, the Conventions of War, the League of Nations, the World Health Organisation and the electric toothbrush.
Possibly Not a Good Seller in Glasgow
I am not entirely sure that the electric toothbrush is going to sell particularly well in Glasgow or even Edinburgh, where one’s own teeth are a rarity after the age of 21 in some parts. Indeed as I am sure Muriel has reminded you from time to time that the removal of teeth and the gift of a set of “wallies” (dentures) was a popular 21st birthday present for a loved one. In such a sweet toothed nation it saved a lot of time.
Muriel’s maternal family, the MacCavities, made a lot of money out of their “integrated business model” which combined plantation ownership, confectionary manufacture and painless dentistry in what they described as “a circle of consumer care”. Of course the MacCavities did not have to deal with the mass produced ceramic teeth, a by-product of the tiled close, but had the more sophisticated and exclusive “Waterloo Teeth”. This may seem rather indelicate, but the young officers who perished on the field of Waterloo had teeth as yet unsullied by honeycomb crunch and were much sought after by fashionable matrons in Georgian Britain. This is why so many maiden aunts had a strong overbite. Muriel says her family would never have taken in the teeth of anyone less than an ensign in rank, which is probably why they have always been so belligerent or, as Muriel will have it, great leaders. Napoleon incidentally did not care for Geneva he described it as “the city where they know English too well”.
The Wylies in the Steps of Byron and Shelley
We have come to this city of ancient cultures, of theology, philosophy and literature rather like Lord Byron two centuries ago with his party containing Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin, Claire Claremont and others who stayed at the Villa Diodati. They were I believe very well aware that Geneva was in Switzerland, or how else would they have found it?
It was here that Byron and Claire became more than just good friends, if you know what I mean, and he wrote The Prisoner of Chillon and two acts of Manfred as well as Canto III of Childe Harold. They cannot have found the muesli too off putting as in the following year their daughter Allegra was born.
It was of course during this visit that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein the story of a creature brought to life with dreadful consequences not unlike Cousin Lulubelle’s frequent interference in our business. Sometimes when I look at her closely she seems at once oddly familiar and yet comprised of spare parts.
Helping Hands at the 1958 Conference on the Law of the Sea
Our party consists of myself and my lady wife Muriel, Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does, but not a lot), Lady Pentland-Firth (a decayed aristocrat and former nightclub singer of our acquaintance), the Handsome Stranger, who works in the shadows and Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes who is from the very good varsity in Glasgow, and I suspect is even more shadowy. However, as Professor of Music he has many strings to his bow and is here on Sabbatical to study the Alpine Horn.
The rest of us are here to support various aspects of the very important Conference on the Law of the Sea. Muriel has been asked to take charge of the programme for the wives of the delegates. She is, for example, running the crotchet workshop in the lobby of the U.N.H.Q. in the absence of her good friend Winnie (of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder) who has mysteriously disappeared along with her “squeeze” Mr Chan, who owns a Chinese Restaurant in Govan. Or at least he did; they have been away so long, I would not be surprise if his sweet and sour balls were not entirely congealed.
Muriel is Cross
We are having a couple of days off which is just as well as Muriel is very cross having discovered that she has been doubled crossed by her supposed friends Lottie Macaulay, the wife of a millionaire bungalow builder who is big in strengthened concrete, and Cynthia Savage whose husband has made a fortune in pickled red cabbage. To cut a long story short, there is something of a cold war taking place between those who want to modernise the soup and pudding lunch and those who want to keep it as it has “aye bin”. It is of course all about power and status and the strange alliances that result.
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has been dragged into the whole affair somewhat unwillingly. This has taken his attention away from developing a new Hymn Book, with modern songs no one likes and with tunes no one has ever heard of. He is rather resentful of this as he is not in any case a soup man himself having spent several years in London where they cannot stand the slurping and prefer pork pies which he rather does too. Not that one can say this or there will be a schism.
Yesterday I went for a hike in the mountains and admired the beautiful scenery. Today I have been pottering around the south west end of the lake, exploring the Haute Ville around the cathedral and the narrow streets of medieval and renaissance houses. There are lots of antiques and interiors’ shops here rather like the Swiss equivalent of “Chez Nous”. I am also taking one or two snaps so that I can illustrate my proposed lecture to the Historical Society on John Calvin who has had such an influence on Scotland.
Calvin’s theology was the idea of John Calvin. He really turned Geneva in Switzerland into a modern city state and led people to reformed religion. It may have been reformed but it was not always very nice. He expelled those who would not see his ways and the high point of fanaticism saw the execution of Michael Servetus. He exerted strong control over inns and taverns and believed food and drink were subjects for stern regulation. His appointment of specialised overseers to control the moral behaviour of Church members has had a lasting effect in other places including Scotland which he influenced. Here the morals of women in particular came under great scrutiny, as any glimpse into Kirk Session Records will demonstrate. Muriel says this is why Swiss women still do not have the vote.
It’s Not All Cuckoo Clocks
Apart from Calvin and cuckoo clocks, the Swiss have splendid chocolate and cheese and also have what my nephew Sebastian calls a counter-culture in the work of Karlheinz Weinberger, a photographer who is influencing fashion with his interest in Elvis, motor bikes and denim fabric and other things which would have sent Calvin rushing for his matches or at least his smelling salts.
While Mr Weinberger’s use of padlocks and other ironmongery maybe a little outré even for the Wylie taste, both Muriel and I are very keen on the work of furniture designer Dieter Wackerlin. He is very young, being born in 1930 in Basel, and has made something of a reputation for his paired back simplicity which some say is too austere. He is both a carpenter and a designer and most of his furniture which includes sideboards and chairs are made in Basel (another town widely known to be in Switzerland) by a family owned company called Idealheim. Muriel thinks his teak units will be very big in the next decade particularly against a turquoise painted wall.
Muriel and Mrs T Head for the Slopes
Muriel and Mrs Travers have gone for a skiing lesson, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. This necessitated some major additions to the wardrobe and Muriel now has enough suitable clothing for trekking across the Antarctic let alone the nursery slopes of the mountains around Geneva. Of course Muriel did learn to ski when she was being finished off and during the last Unpleasantness found it very useful for sabotaging things. She now feels she needs to go back to basics, despite her own admission that she skis like a native.
Mrs Travers, who was reading Heidi, was a bit uncertain about the whole thing but perked up when she found out that large dogs wander around with barrels of brandy tied at their necks for passers-by to enjoy. Now brandy is Mrs T’s favourite tipple and it has got her into many a scrape, and its promise certainly got her into that ski lift. I did point out that the St Bernard might slobber into her tipple but she said she would find a way around this.
Lady Pentland Firth Renews an Old Acquaintance of the Comrade Sort
Lady Pentland-Firth, who is staying at the Hotel Beau-Rivage (while the rest of us are renting a chalet) has gone sailing on the lake in a paddle steamer with a member of the comrades’ delegation to the Conference on the Seas, called Admiral Neareenovf. The Admiral it seems remembers meeting her ladyship many years ago in pre-war Berlin when, as a cabaret star, “unter den linden”. When he called for her at her dressing room all those years ago, she kept him waiting and uttered those famous words to her dresser which were overheard by Marlene in the next room, and subsequently used by her “zee longer you keep zem vaiting, zee better zay like it”. Only of course she said it in English.
He has not forgotten zis and when he picked her up at the hotel said with a smile on his thin lips, “I hope my dear the same fate does not befall you as befell the Empress Elizabeth of Austria when leaving this hotel in 1898, when hurrying to board the steamship Geneve.” “What was that?” asked Lady Pentland-Firth, whose grasp of history is limited to say the least. “Was she swept off her feet by an aristocrat from the court of the Tsar?” “No my dear, she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist.” “Indeed” said Patience Pentland-Firth, who is used to the ways of admirals having been married to the late Rear Admiral Salty Pentland-Firth. “Why don’t you sweep me on to that steamship and while I sing to you, you tell me all about your plans for extending coastal waters.” “Well my little персик, time has not changed you.” “My dear Admiral Neareenovf only in the sense that like vintage wine I have just got fruitier.” “Naughty Patience.” “You’ll see just how naughty! Now where do you stand on fishing quotas?”
Actually in many ways Lady Pentland-Firth reminds me of the Empress Elizabeth, a woman obsessively fascinated about her own beauty and spending hours each day just combing her knee length hair, always “searching, searching, searching….”
I wouldn’t mind another coffee and one of those plum drinks and I might as well have another pancake too. It’ll see me through to lunchtime.
Muriel Arrives Unexpectedly
“Jasper, there you are. I have been looking everywhere for you.”
“Hello darling, you are back rather soon. Have you lost Mrs T down a crevice?”
“No Dahling, in fact she is doing unexpectedly well – last seen skiing right off piste being followed by an amorous St Bernard.”
“I am feeling half-piste myself, but this plum stuff is frightfully good.”
“Jasper, listen; pay attention. The Handsome Stranger wants us all back at the chocolate box chalet, Winnie and Mr Chan have been found in an isolated mountain hut.”
“Oh that’s good Muriel; we can go home now. She can take over the crochet workshop.”
“No Jasper, you don’t understand, they have been found dead. They both have their bicycle clips on and unfinished crotched blankets in their hands.”
“Unfinished, you say that’s not like Winnie, it sounds very suspicious to me.”
“Indeed Jasper, very suspicious. She was one of my oldest friends and she hasn’t finished that Arran Jumper you wanted last Christmas, I paid for the wool in advance.”
“Oh and poor Mr Chan I was getting to quite like his Dinner B.”
“Hurry up Jasper, we must get going and find Patience.”
“Patience is on a pleasure steamer giving pleasure to one of the comrades.”
“I believe so.”
“Oh dear, Jasper hurry.”
“Can I bring this pancake and finish it later? It is delicious, it’s got a chocolate and nut filling.”