Okay, so this is Day One … Ground Zero … Genesis (no, not that one!) … my inauguration … I could go on … I think I just did. I’ve never blogged before. It’s all a bit new, to be honest. I might use this space to share articles, ideas, thoughts, opinions, maybe all of the above. As I get a little more tech-savvy, I may add video blogs – that would be fun/strange/other (please specify).
Being today is also Day One of this website as a whole – and as this website marks the Day One of my official re-brand as a writer – it seems appropriate that Blog 1 should give readers a taste of how I do things. So Blog One is a sample chapter of my book, The Sat Nav Diaries. Do let me know your thoughts . . .
Feeling Jung in Kesswil
© Adrian Sturrock 2017
Today we enter Switzerland, home to watchmaking, chocolate and assisted suicide. I’m wondering what to take back for the relatives.
Having left Strasbourg relatively early this morning and having now crossed into Germany, we enjoy a far too brief scenic drive through the edges of the stunningly imposing Black Forest. I’m wishing I’d uploaded some equally imposing Wagner onto my iPod as an apt soundtrack to this section of road. Instead, I am destined to listen to my wife repeating the German for ‘black forest gateaux’ over and over again—she tells me she learned the phrase at school and likes the sound of it, apparently.
Eventually the terrain flattens out a little—as does her enthusiasm for orating the name of said dessert—which she’s been doing in a variety of voices—and we arrive at the Swiss border. Our next job is to buy a vignette, a compulsory road-tax display disc for driving on main Swiss highways. I enter the official roadside building and approach the desk to pay my forty Euros but am instantly made to feel like a child as an officious sounding man in a military hat tells me off for queuing at the wrong desk.
‘This is the desk for people leaving Switzerland,’ he barks. ‘Go to that desk.’ He points, equally officiously, to another desk behind me.
This seems strange. Surely, if I were driving from Switzerland into Germany, I would now be on the other side of the motorway and ‘this desk’ would be on the wrong side of the road.
‘Somebody should tell that guy that he’s on the wrong side of the road, then,’ I reply, pointing to Desk One. ‘Though let him down gently,’ I add, leaning in a little and lowering my voice, ‘I’m sure he’ll feel quite silly when he realizes.’
I leave Mr Military Man glaring at me as I turn and approach the other desk.
I buy my vignette and return to the car. I now feel very European with my shiny red Swiss tax disc adorning my windscreen. I am happy and excited. I’ve never been to Switzerland before.
‘The man in the traffic shop wasn’t very nice,’ I tell Nat.
‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte,’ she replies.
‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’
I reach for my iPod. It’s playing ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. We merge into the traffic and make our way to our first Swiss destination.
* * * * * * * *
It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Kesswil. I’m not impressed. It’s bland and grey and nothing like the Swiss movie that has been playing in my head all day.
‘So, where’s the friggin’ cow bells?’
Nat is currently failing to convince me that Switzerland is beautiful.
In guidebook speak, Kesswil is a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau. In road trip speak, it is an almost adequately placed rest stop for the night, before the new excitements of tomorrow. All I really know about it as we enter the town is that it is the birthplace of Karl Jung. And it has a lake.
As Bernice (our sat nav—keep up!) takes us along the final road to our destination for the evening, we are slightly confused to see only residential houses. No hotel.
‘Ah, yes,’ says Nat, ‘maybe this one is the B&B I booked.’
‘What? Why a B&B?’ I ask.
‘It was cheaper,’ she says. ‘You said keep it cheap so that we could have two nights in St Moritz.’
Damn, I did say that, though I was thinking cheaper hotel. I don’t reply, as we have now arrived on somebody’s driveway.
‘Okay, you knock on the door while I grab the bags,’ I say, as I switch the engine off.
‘Why don’t you knock?’
‘Because you know the German for black forest gateaux?’
She looks blankly at me.
‘Well … it’s a start,’ I offer.
I hand her the paperwork and move to get out of the car, my gesture intended to imply both conclusion and agreement on this matter.
By the time I’ve retrieved our bags from the boot, locked the car and started to walk towards the front of the house, Nat has managed to drag her feet just far enough to reach the door alongside me. She rings the doorbell, but even before she has time to take her finger from the button, the door is opened by a tall, elderly man with an implausibly fixed smile.
We look at each other, and then turn our attention back to who we assume to be our new host.
‘Hello,’ replies Nat, ‘we have a reservation for this evening?’
Behind his smile, he clearly doesn’t understand much English. I move to step in when, suddenly …. No, not suddenly. What happens now is too weird for a mere suddenly. What happens next is that Nat, my wife—whom I have lived with for six years, been married to for nearly five—inexplicably bursts into fluent German. As if this is the most natural thing to do when in a German speaking country.
‘Wir haben eines reservierung fur diesen abend.’
I have no idea what is taking place now. My mind has just pressed pause on the day, and I’m watching a random scene unfold in front of me—as though I’m watching television. But my wife is on this show. And she’s been dubbed into German. And I don’t understand a thing. When the hell did my wife learn to speak German?
’When the hell did you learn to speak German?’ I spit out.
‘Shh!’ she says and continues to discuss our documentation with Mr B&B.
Once they have concluded their commerce, the man’s smile turns to me. I decide to sidestep the language barrier by offering a very safe ‘Hi’ and holding out my right hand for a friendly handshake. It is at this point that Mr B&B holds out his left hand. This is because, I quickly realise, he has no right hand. Or right arm. I take a step forward to distract from my slight of hand as I quickly swap, um, hands. And voilà (French, you know!), no harm is done. We have successfully greeted. Sometimes, I am very proud of my quick thinking.
‘I think that went well,’ I whisper to Nat as we are led indoors to be greeted by Mrs B&B, who is approaching us along the passageway. She now takes over and efficiently introduces us to the dog and the television—in that order.
We follow Mrs B&B upstairs as Mr B&B returns to the living room where, presumably, he had come from. She is turning to speak to me at almost every step. I have absolutely no idea what she is saying but she is smiling and laughing a lot so I assume they are happy things. On the other hand, I quickly begin to irritate myself by repeating the word ‘Cool’ to everything she says. I try to answer with other things but my default setting appears to be stuck.
‘Cool … year, cool … Ha! Cool …’ God, I need a new strategy for these kinds of situations.
I’m a little relieved when Nat whispers to me that she doesn’t understand Mrs B&B either.
‘She’s talking too fast,’ she whispers, ‘and I’m not sure of her dialect.’
It puts me at ease to have someone on this side of the confusion again.
Mrs B&B is, however, picking up on the language barrier. But where she could simply have handed us the keys to the door and wished us good luck (as I would have preferred), she chooses instead to persevere through the medium of mime.
Firstly, she introduces us to the bed, the bathroom, the balcony and the wardrobe (with its open-and-close doors), all of which we can clearly see from where we are standing in the room. I want to inform her that we now have bathrooms and wardrobes in the UK, but I consider that Nat would probably tell me off, so I stay silent. There is also the fact that I don’t speak German, of course—unlike my wife, the MI6 spy. (I will clearly need to discuss this with her later.)
I think that Mrs B&B is now going to leave, but she hasn’t finished yet. In her attempt to make us feel at home, she has switched on the TV and is kindly—and rather frantically—flipping buttons, eagerly trying to find us an English-speaking channel. She is getting visibly frustrated by this search. So am I.
Eventually landing on an American music channel, she smiles and puts the handset down in order to next introduce us to her A4 wipe-clean breakfast menu.
And this is my next out-of-body experience of this trip. I can hardly hear her over the volume of the rap channel she has chosen for us and as she points to pictures of various sausages on the menu, her words are drowned out by the Afro-Caribbean gentleman on the television warning me about how he is going to ‘fuck up my hoe’ (though I believe other gardening tools are available).
My mind is flitting between feigned interest in what Mrs B&B is failing to communicate to me and a clutch (I shall use this collective term) of black ‘booty’ being enthusiastically wobbled at me—presumably for my pleasure—on the screen beside her.
Mrs B&B is fast becoming Mrs R&B, I feel.
And then yet another out-of-body experience kicks in. While I have been having my previous WTF experience, her conversation has clearly moved on (to the shower temperature, Nat later tells me), and while Mr Rapper off of the TV goes into detail about which way up he prefers his ‘bitches’, Mrs B&B is standing in this same room that I am meant to be sleeping in this evening, with one hand raised above her head and the other rubbing her chest as she wriggles (seemingly to the music) while repeating ‘douche … douche …’ I am making a mental note to sleep with the light on tonight.
By the time we have completed our full induction to our stay and finalised breakfast arrangements, Nat has found Treasure Hunt on TV. I resign myself to retrieving the final suitcase from the car.
‘Well done,’ she says, as we settle down to a coffee on the little sofas by the window.
‘What for?’ I ask.
‘For saying nothing during all of that.’
‘How do you know I had anything to say?’
She smiles as though she has been reading my mind the whole time. ‘Well done,’ she repeats.
‘So, just out of interest,’ I add, ‘of all the serial killer couples you have ever heard of/met (delete as appropriate), which couple did we just meet?’
‘Fred and Rose West,’ she says, without even slight hesitation.
‘I think Jung had something when he talked about collective consciousness,’ I reply.
‘I don’t want to frighten you,’ she says, but did you notice that the balcony is shared by both our patio doors and Fred and Rose’s?’ She points.
‘Luckily, we have been blessed by that screamingly loud freight train track just a twenty foot suicide jump from the balcony. I feel this will probably remind us to shut—and lock—the patio doors before we sleep.’
I suggest we beat Fred and Rose at their own game by appearing silhouetted against their glass doors at 3am, dressed as The Shining twins. We both like this idea, but it is now raining outside and so, instead, decide to venture out to the small lakeside restaurant we’d passed earlier.
Despite a great view of sunset over the lake, all foods at the restaurant taste of vinegar. So we settle back down at Fred and Rose’s, excited about the cool day we have planned for tomorrow.
* * * * * * * *
Breakfast is conducted totally in German. It is here that we meet the only other couple presently staying at the B&B. They seem nice. Nat dips in and out of the conversation (using her sudden fluency in German) while helping me along as she might a special needs child she has been put in charge of. The actual child in me is quite pleased when the guy from the other couple suddenly explodes his boiled egg over himself as he tries to cut into it. I don’t know, somehow this helps level the field a little.
I notice that yesterday’s wipe-clean breakfast menu was more of a survey than an order, as there is little relationship between what I’d previously ticked and what is now laying on my plate. I’m not overly bothered though, as I’m excited about getting back on the road. Today, we are heading into the Alps.
* * * * * * * *
I finish packing up the car while Nat settles the bill with our hosts. As I re-enter the house to say goodbye, I find that she and Rose are engaged in some kind of mutual disagreement. I’m not too sure what the issue is. I look over at Fred. He is still sat at the breakfast table where we’d left him, though now he is waving a pastry at me.
I eventually get the gist of the situation. Rose is asserting that we had not pre-paid 30% of the total charge. However, the printed details that Nat is waving at her asserts (unfortunately in English only) that we have.
We conclude that being the difference isn’t a lot in terms of Stirling, and being that the language barrier is evidently too large to allow clear establishment of business understanding here—and, as I quietly assert to my wife while nodding in the direction of the living room, one should never fuck with a one-armed Swiss pensioner wielding a croissant—we duly pay the difference, and I start the car.
Nat offers to drive this next section of the journey, and so I’m free to settle into the passenger seat, check the music, and start to enjoy the slowly evolving scenery.
Soon, we are back on the motorway.
‘What are you eating?’ she asks, after a few moments.
I’m about to answer but she cuts me off …
‘That’s Fred’s croissant, isn’t it.’ There is an accusatory tone in her voice.
‘Well I wasn’t sure if he was threatening me with it or just offering me something for the journey. I didn’t want to offend him so …’
I tail off as Nat’s face starts to turn to a warm smile. Next stop is Davos.