Switzerland: part 1
As you can see, I allowed Andrew to write an entry last week ;-) - but only because I was away on holiday! Seriously, he has promised to write another blog about his journey from Bush House to a different train station. In the meantime, I'm afraid you'll just have to put up with me.
When I said I'd been on holiday, I meant that very loosely. I did go away last week, but I took 35 children with me, so it wasn't really a holiday! Perhaps I should explain. They weren't 35 of my own children (you'll be pleased to hear) - they were 35 Girl Guides (if you're not sure what a Guide is, see my last blog). Anyway, 35 girls and 8 leaders travelled to Switzerland last week. The youngest was 10 years old and the oldest 66 years old! We travelled all the way from London to Interlaken by coach.
We left London at 6 p.m. and arrived in Interlaken at 1 p.m. Swiss time the next day - (Switzerland is an hour ahead of England, so we actually travelled for 18 hours). We crossed the English channel on a ferry and then travelled through 3 countries - France, Luxembourg and Switzerland - although a lot of the journey was along the French border with Germany, so we almost travelled through 4 countries. On the journey we watched DVDs, read, slept (or at least tried to sleep) and sang - we were all very pleased to arrive! We stayed in a hotel in the little village of Wilderswil, which is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Switzerland actually has 4 official languages: Swiss-German, French, Italian and Romansh.
We spent our first evening recovering from the journey and swimming in the hotel swimming pool, surrounded by the mountains: how relaxing (or it would have been, without all the children).
The next day was hot and sunny (you know how important the weather is to the English!) and so we all took a gondola half way up a mountain.
As you can see, it's quite scary, just travelling up and down a thin wire. Fortunately it didn't break down when we were on it. Unfortunately, it did break down when we reached the top, so we were stuck half way up a mountain for nearly 2 hours! Fortunately, there was a very exciting toboggan run, which we all tried out.
Usually, toboggans are used in the snow, but these toboggans travelled down a metal track - very fast!
When we finally got back down on the gondola we needed to find somewhere cool to walk - so we took a nice, shady path above a river:
The water runs straight out of a glacier, so is ice cold. Later in the week we went up to another glacier almost on the border with Italy.
Although it looks as if the glacier is quite narrow, the ice actually fills the whole valley. As it travels, it scrapes stones off the mountains and they form a layer along the sides of the glacier - in the picture below, we are actually standing on the ice.
You can get so close to the glacier that you can actually see underneath it - the colours are really beautiful. But don't be fooled if you tried to walk in to this ice cave, you could be crushed by falling ice!
If you want to read a really exciting - and true - story about mountains and glaciers, I can recommend Joe Simpson's book "Touching the void" - it has also been made in to a film.
I think I'd better stop now, before this gets too long and boring. I'll be back with some more about Switzerland, so I'm afraid there's no escape!
put up with: to tolerate something or someone
don't be fooled: don't be mistaken
there's no escape: you can't avoid something
posted on Thursday, 07 August 2008 | comment on this post
Switzerland: part II
Time for part two of a brief (or not so brief) tour of Switzerland in the company of 35 Guides and Rangers!
I thought I'd start with a little bit about Guiding and Scouting in the UK, as Adriana asked. Scouts were started by Lord Robert Baden-Powell back in 1907, specifically for boys. As I said in one of the previous blogs, at a rally at Crystal Palace, some girls tried to gatecrash and so Lord B-P decided to start a separate movement - Guiding - for girls. Scouts and Guides have stayed as separate organisations, but in 1991 girls were allowed to join all sections of the Scouts. Guiding, on the other hand, has always remained only for girls (although men can become helpers: here's our "Unit Helper", James in Switzerland. James is also a Scouter).
Girls can join Guiding at the age of 5 as a Rainbow. At the age of 7, they become Brownies and from 10 they join Guides. At 14 they can become Rangers and/or Young Leaders and at 18 they can become Leaders. All the sections share the same salute and Brownies, Guides and Rangers share (more or less) the same Promise*. One of the Rangers who came to Switzerland was 18 on the day we left England. She had completed her leadership training, so while we were in Switzerland, she renewed her Promise.
Adriana, you asked about the Scout prayer - but I think you meant the motto, as it is the same for Guides and Scouts all over the world "Be Prepared" - have you noticed that in English, the first letter of each word is the same as the initials of the founder?
Anyway, back to our trip. Last week I left you at the glacier. Today I thought I'd give you a bit of culture, before letting you enjoy some more beautiful views! Now I don't pretend to be an expert on Swiss culture - you'd have to ask Jackie about that, as she grew up in Switzerland - so these are just a few things we enjoyed! One evening we went to a traditional Swiss folk evening - we listened to folk songs, yodelling, the alpine horn and the handbells:
I think I should explain a few things about this picture. First of all, can you see the beautiful flower embroidery on the waistcoat of the man playing the bells waistcoat? The Swiss are famous for delicate and colourful embroidery. Secondly, the other man in the photo is Tommy, one of our coach drivers. With him is Roger. Roger is puppet, but he seems to take on a life of his own and makes everyone he meets giggle! I think Roger was showing off a bit here ;-).
I know you're all always interested in food, so here are a couple of pictures. The first is of cheese fondue - that's melted cheese, herbs and white wine - it's kept hot in a bowl over a candle and you dip in pieces on bread. I guess, it tastes a little bit like a sophisticated pizza!
The second picture probably doesn't need much explaining. It's the ice-cream I was just about to eat! I would post a picture of me enjoying the ice-cream, but it's just too embarrassing!
Our last day in Switzerland was 1st August and this is Swiss National Day - it's a public holiday and it seemed to me as if every town and village celebrated. In Wilderswil, they started celebrating on the evening of 31st July. In the village square, long tables were laid out and everyone sat enjoying beer, sausages and cakes. The local band played - but strangely enough, no-one danced. Or at least not until we descended! Within 5 minutes not only were all the girls dancing, but all the village children joined in too! Just as it got dark, there was a parade through the village, led by men swinging huge cow bells. They were very large versions of the bells worn around the necks of cows as they wander in the pastures high up in the mountains.
These men must be very strong, as they walk about 2 kms right around the village and you can hear the boom boom boom of the bells from one end of the village to the other. Following them is a parade of children carrying paper lanterns, lit by candles.
And finally - one other Swiss tradition to do with bells (although Jackie claims she's never heard of it!). This one involves a bowl and a coin. The trick is to keep the coin rolling around the inside edge of the bowl so that it makes a sound like a bell. It's much harder than you think!
And really, truly finally - here are a few more photos. And I promise, the last photo is exactly as I took it.....
to gatecrash: to go somewhere without being invited (e.g. to gatecrash a party)
to renew a Promise: to make a Promise again
motto: a short sentence that expresses a rule for good behaviour
yodelling: to sing in a special way with lots of high notes
a life of his own: in this case, when something that isn't real seems to become real
to show off: to try to impress people
descended: here it means a big group suddenly joining in
* I promise that I will do my best
To love my God
To serve the Queen and my country
To help other people
And to keep the (Brownie) Guide law
posted on Friday, 15 August 2008 | comment on this post
A few answers!
Andrew has promised to do this week's staff blog, but I just thought I'd slip in a few quick answers before he posts.
Thank you, as ever, for all your comments.
Tanya - Elena has promised to try and get rid of Will's photo and put mine up instead - I don't think that will be an improvement though!
Habooba - thank you for checking on the origin of the word toboggan - I'd never thought about it before. Scouts and Guides meet in all sorts of different places. Some meet in school buildings, some in church halls (but you don't have to be a Christian to be a Scout or Guide), some meet in village halls and some (particularly Scouts) have their own buildings, usually called a "Scout Hut".
Pary - at the BBC we get 25 days paid holiday each year (if we work 5 days a week) and I think that's about average for workers in England. In addition we get public holidays and at the BBC we get an extra day at Christmas. Legally workers are entitled to 24 days holiday per year - but they are not legally entitled to public holidays. Of course, not everyone actually goes away for 25 days! Most people go away for around 10 - 15 days a year - the rest of their leave is spent at home - especially around Christmas.
Marianna - I'm glad my photos brought back some memories. Digital cameras have certainly made it easier to share photos - I think I took around 300 during the trip, but quite a lot of them will end up being deleted. Here's one just for you:
Cristina - the ice-cream really was yummy: lots of vanilla ice-cream, whipped cream, fruit and meringue.... The cheese fondue was nice, but, to tell you the truth, was a bit boring after a while! I've had chocolate fondue once - yummy, but very naughty!
Filippo - yes, I did bring chocolate back from Switzerland...bars and bars and bars of it- but it wasn't all for me, honest! As I'm writing this, we have the TV on in the office, watching the Olympics. Team GB has done amazingly well so far, and it has just been announced that in October there will be a special parade for the team through the streets of London. I'm also please Rafa won the gold medal - are you?
Hanan - funny you should mention Egypt - I'm hoping to visit later on this year on a business trip. While I'm there, I'm hoping to visit Alexandria, because my grandfather's name is on a memorial there.
Maryam - yes, we all have to pay for the trip. Some of money is paid by the parents and leaders. They started to pay nearly 2 years ago, and each month paid a bit towards the trip. In addition we had to do a lot of fund raising - our aim was to raise £1,000 towards the trip. To raise this money we had 2 quiz evenings (people buy tickets to come and take part in a quiz); we baked cakes and collected old books and sold them. However, our most successful event was just before last Christmas. We went to our local supermarket and helped shoppers pack their bags at the tills. The leaders stood with buckets near the exit to the supermarket and people put in coins (and sometimes notes!). The money we collected was shared between our trip and a local hospice that cares for sick people and children. We were also really lucky and got a grant from the Jack Petchey Foundation - a charity which helps young people in London. So you see, we had to work hard to go on the trip.
I'm off now to go and encourage Andrew to start writing! I'll leave you with a last taste of Switzerland. This is a carved tree stump in Wilderswil - I would have loved to take it home with me....
posted on Wednesday, 20 August 2008 | comment on this post
Blog number 1 ½
Hello everyone, I’m picking up my ‘walking to work’ story that I started a few weeks ago. The first thing I should say is that I’m still doing it, and enjoying it. I thought I was going to write two blogs, one about the route I walk to work in the morning, and another about the route I walk to get home in the evening. Today I should talk about going home… but I’ve changed my plan a little. This is not Blog Number 2, it seems to be Blog number 1 ½!
Let me explain. I’ve still got something to say about the morning walk. To get to work I have been walking from London Bridge railway station, along the northern bank of the River Thames, heading west. I showed you the pictures last time. But I have since discovered I can also get to work walking along the southern bank of the Thames, also heading West. And I can’t resist showing you two things. First, there is a steel barrier between me and the river, and there is something very interesting written on it. The problem is, I am not a good photographer, and I was too close to get the whole phrase in my photograph. So let’s see if you can solve the puzzle:
It is difficult to see, but what it says is MEN’S EVIL MANNERS LIVE IN BR… (and the complete missing word there is BRASS). The rest of the sentence continues…
..their virtues we wr(ite in)
… water. So the entire phrase is
‘Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water’.
I’m really fascinated by this, it has kept me thinking about it all day! The first thing I should say is that there is a gigantic clue right behind me, which I haven’t told you about – Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Actually, the building is a reproduction of the original Globe, which is where William Shakespeare’s plays were performed in 1599 -1613, before it was destroyed in a fire. The current Globe was rebuilt in 1997. And, as you probably guessed, the phrase I photographed comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, which is Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2.
But what does it mean? I think the key word is ‘manners’. If you ask an English speaker today what the word ‘manners’ means, I think he or she would say it is to do with behaviour, whether you are polite and considerate, and whether you think about other people. They might even think about ‘table manners’ – how you hold your knife and fork at a formal dinner and so-on. But there is another wider meaning of ‘manners’ that was probably more in use in Shakespeare’s time – simply meaning ‘the way you live your life’. So in my mind the phrase is telling us that the bad things people do are ‘written in brass’ – in other words, fixed and remembered for a long, long time, while the good things people do – their ‘virtues’ are only written in water – meaning they easily wash away and are not remembered at all. By the way, brass is a metal, a mixture of copper and zinc. Actually, there is another little twist to the meaning: the phrase says ‘their virtues we write in water’. So I think it means that we – you and me – only remember the bad things people do, and we easily forget the good things, we write them in water.
What a dark and depressing thought! But maybe it is true? What do you think?
I think ‘writing in water’ is a really interesting image, a way of saying that what you write does not last. It reminds me of something someone else once said. I may need the help of any Latin American or Spanish readers of this blog to check if I have my facts right. You will of course know about Simón Bolivar, one of the great heroes of Latin America, who in the nineteenth century fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia (Bolivia is named after him). Like many of the great figures of history, at the end of his life and after a long story of wars and revolutions, glory and despair, he questioned whether it had all been worth it. And I think the phrase he used to express his despair was ‘I have ploughed in the sea’. In other words, rather than ploughing and planting on fertile soil, he had tried to plough and plant in water, and of course his work had been in vain.
Strangely, perhaps, as I carry on walking and thinking about these things I am not depressed at all. I hope I haven’t depressed you! The sun is shining, and despite Shakespearean and Bolivarian gloom, everyone seems to be smiling. And the second thing I wanted to slip in about getting to work is this view, as I walk across the Millennium Bridge to cross back to the northern bank of the Thames, I am walking straight towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
I promise that my next blog will really be number 2, and be about my afternoon walk! Good bye until then!
posted on Friday, 22 August 2008 | comment on this post
This should be a reasonably short blog....and probably the last one you'll have from me for a while. This is because I've twisted a few arms around the office and so a few different people will blog over the coming weeks!
Anyway, I thought I'd tell you a bit about the celebrations that took place in London last weekend to mark the handing over of the Olympics from Beijing 2008 to London in 2012. I'm guessing that everyone knows that the next Olympics will be held in London? It was a very close fought battle between London and Paris. I can remember watching the TV in the office as one by one all the other cities were dropped. Eventually, it was just down to London and Paris. But before the final announcement was made, the judges went to lunch! In Trafalgar Square (about half a km from Bush House) they had erected a huge screen so that people could watch as the announcement was made. I left the office and rushed down there - together with thousands of other people - and we all stood there waiting for the judges to have their lunch and come back and announce their decision. The square was packed, and as the IOC President said "and the 2012 Games have been awarded to...." you could almost have heard a pin drop before the crowd erupted when he said "....London!"
Anyway, all of that was 3 years ago. Since then building work has started and all sorts of plans have been made. It's fair to say that until a couple of weeks ago, a lot of Londoners were very apathetic and some were even against the Games, as they will cost a huge amount of money and taxes will rise. However, since Team GB did so well in Beijing, Olympic fever has gripped the country. Last Sunday the Games in Beijing ended and the Olympic flag was handed over to the Mayor of London. There were big TV screens in cities around the UK showing the event and in London there was a huge party. I was lucky enough to get tickets to the party, which was held right outside Buckingham Palace. I took two of the Rangers with me - it was sort of a "well done" present, as they have just passed their exams and are off to university. 40,000 people had tickets, so as you can imagine, it took a long time to get through the barriers. Here they are when we finally got in!
The event started with the handover of the flag being shown on a big screen and then there was a concert. At first there weren't too many people around us, but soon it was packed and the crowds went right up The Mall (that's the road leading up to Buckingham Palace). You could hardly move - apart from being able to put your arms in the air to wave your flag!
The music was so loud, that I could feel the road vibrating under my feet! I wondered what the Queen thought - she was at home, because the flag was flying on the top of Buckingham Palace. I heard on the news in the evening that Prince Harry was on the roof watching, but I doubt that the Queen was up on the roof with him ;-)
As well was the music, there were interviews with sporting stars (past and present). Onika was very excited when Phillips Iduwo (British triple jump silver medalist) came towards us and showed us his medal!
Michael Phelps was also there - but he didn't bring his 8 Gold medals and he was surrounded by big, burly minders so that no-one could get near him!
The highlight of the party for me, though, was when the Red Arrows flew straight down the Mall and over Buckingham Palace, streaming read, white and blue smoke.
Call me a big softie, but it brought a lump to my throat and made me proud to be British!
So, that's about it from me. One last thing - Marianna: no I don't have enough room for a carved tree in my home....but here's how I compromised!
to twist someone's arm: to persuade them
a close fought battle: a very tight contest
heard a pin drop: is quiet you could hear a pin falling on the ground
burly: with lots of muscles
a big softie: someone who is "soft-hearted" or sentimental
to bring a lump to your throat: to make you want to cry
posted on Thursday, 28 August 2008 | comment on this post
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Jan 10: Carrie
Dec 09: Carrie