Wednesday, 19 August 2009

More than chocolate and cuckoo clocks

Just back from a few days in Basel, Switzerland, with Number One daughter and family which now includes a new puppy. Reminded me no matter how much I miss our dog I don’t miss the responsibility. Bit like grandchildren – wonderful to have all the fun and none of the responsibility!

It is difficult when you visit somewhere several times a year not to make comparisons – and I don’t just mean about the trains and trams running on time. It is a slightly unnerving experience, being used to London Transport, arranging to meet someone at 10.15 and knowing that you will be there exactly at 10.15 because that is the time that it says on the timetable. This was reinforced when I flew back into City Airport to find that the DLR was suspended. Pity the unsuspecting tourists who are then left to puzzle out what to do next with staff who speak only English. City Airport – a joy as it is the closest airport to home, very quick check-in and the fare is surprisingly reasonable – hardly a budget airline but pretty cheap compared to rail travel within the UK. Fortunately, I had ordered a mini-cab and the door-to-door journey took three hours and forty-five minutes – less than to many UK destinations.

Number One grand-daughter started at the local Swiss school last week. The children are taught in High German but speak Swiss German in the playground. She speaks neither and was treated with courtesy and care and a couple of children who speak English or French (as does she) were happily translating for her. She starts extra German classes (provided by the school) next week and is happily watching Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse in German. Primary school starts a year or more later than in the UK and handcrafts, music and other “non-core” subjects are very much part of the curriculum. Does this give us more rounded children under less pressure? Time will tell. In the mean time she will speak three languages – English which is home language, French which she has already learned and two varieties of German.

On Friday night was the Basel Jazz Festival. The centre of town was packed with people, most of the roads closed; make-shift bandstands were set up on various corners and bands played a set or two and then moved to the next one. Restaurants and bars had put up trestle tables on every inch of pavement (and road) and some had groups playing inside as well. Much, much alcohol was drunk Рand food eaten. But the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, there were no police to be seen and all generations were represented from some rather elderly matrons tucking into giant ice-creams at Mövenpick to young people spilling out of the bars.

There were no drunks throwing up in gutters, groups of men or women lurching around “out of it” nor any aggression, and walking home alone posed no threats to personal safety. As a nervous Londoner I had the strap of my handbag around my ankle with my foot on the bag while I ate dinner, while the Swiss had their mobile phones lying on the table, handbags left available to grab – and no one did.

A survey of Breast Cancer Campaign colleagues revealed that 40 per cent have managed to escape having their wallet/purse stolen and the rest have had theirs stolen any number of times from once (most) to 10 or 12 times or “too many to remember”. Basel is starting to win me over.

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