The meat of time

I’m threading chunks of time on a string

bloody purplish gristly cubes

they slip sinewy and slick on my fingers and

stain the sheets

spatters of strawberry red

give off the sexy-filthy intimate smell of beach coves away from the wind

where it’s warm and protected and the ocean’s sweat lazes in postcoital gentleness

while the sound of the breakers booms a satisfying distance above, beyond

seagulls cry and tease the ragged exciting air up there

but we’re safe here

except for

those grisly bits of meat, the bits of time I want to eat

stick in my teeth

and taste of

juniper berries and suncream and peanut butter and aged reisling today

tomorrow it’s salted caramel, meat pies, prosecco and lonelieness

so beautiful that

I want to spew them back up and taste them fresh, yet

on each regurgitation they’re more grey and flavourless

senseless time, and time rotting on my plate

Skipping ahead to day 26: a poem that includes images that engage all five senses.

In response: Money

One of my poems was published in a local literary magazine, The Woolf. I’m pretty chuffed …

The Woolf

Two Woolf readers respond to the theme …

The Burning Question

Short work of nonfiction by Marie Hélène Prosper

It is alarmingly dark in my dream.

I try to grasp the blackness before me when all at once bills of money materialize, in tens, twenties or more, and come flying towards me from all directions. All the money I possess. I reach out and grab handfuls from all around, piling the bills on the ground. I strike a match and throw it over the whole thing, onto this heap that contains my material worth, my life savings, my security. I watch as fire catches; a small piece crackles, sparks a flame and sends tinsels flitting about in the air. I am astonished by the finality of my act as I look on and it all burns to ashes.

I feel emotions rise and swell then, as my night-world of dreams recedes and vanishes along with…

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Tips for Not Drinking

Snow Martini, tea or water

So it’s a new year: 2015! And lots of people will be keen to cut down on the alcohol. But I’m way ahead of you… because I’ve had nine months’ practice of trying to avoid one of my fave activities.

I may not have been entirely successful at cutting out drinking (ahem!) but I have learned a few tips and tricks, which I’ll happily pass on to you – and no doubt to my future self! I read this guide to Women Cutting Down on Alcohol in the Guardian today but I don’t think the tips are specific or practical enough. So without further ado…

Claire’s tips to stop or cut down your boozing

  • There’s a peak-craving time. If you get through it without taking a drink, you’re in the clear. Eg: I often start thinking about wine around 5-6pm and I’m stinging for a drink until 7 or 8ish (usually while preparing dinner). After the meal is eaten and I’m into the evening, I don’t care anymore. So the trick is: get through the craving period, perhaps by…
  • Fake it. I’ve recently discovered that putting a non-alcoholic drink in a wine glass really helps! I wish I’d realised this at any point in the past 9 months because I could have avoided many cheeky glasses of wine but hey ho, better late than never. Fizzy apple juice is working well for me right now but even water will do. However, if you’re like me…
  • Water is boring. Don’t get me wrong, I drink loads of water – definitely 8 glasses a day, sometimes up to 2 litres of the stuff – and it’s probably my favourite drink. But by the time I reach the evening, I’m pretty sick of water. At dinner time, wine feels like a reward, a treat, and/or a nice marker that the kid’s in bed/work has finished and I’m finally “off the clock”. So when tucking into a meal, particularly if it’s a special one, there’s there’s usually nothing fun about guzzling down YET MORE H2O. Therefore it’s worth getting yourself something different – cordial, juice, fizzy drink, milk, coconut water, tea, whatever. And…
  • Buy up. Even if, in general, you think of fancy waters or silly juices as an indulgence, at this tough time, it’s not. Treat yourself to San Pellegrino, Voss, coconut water, almond milk, Innocent Smoothies or whatever you want. Spend the money you’ve saved on the wine you’re (supposedly) not drinking!
  • Don’t tell. If you’re out at dinner or the pub, get yourself an alcohol-looking drink (eg: a short glass of lime & soda or pint of ginger beer) and let everyone assume you’re drinking vodka or Real Ale. This is something that works particularly well in early pregnancy before you want to announce it. But it would also work for people going dry, quitting or taking a break. I’ve found people in general hate to see you not drinking when they are (or maybe it’s just my friends, family and work colleagues ha!) so it’s often easier if they don’t notice. Once again, there’s a crunch-time involved. Buy yourself the first few drinks of the night and make them softies-that-look-hard and no questions will be asked. After that, people are too drunk to notice or care.
  • Sober socialising is hard. You get tired quicker and – surprise! – drunk people are boring. A bonus is, it’s easy to slip out early, especially if you’ve been drinkfaking it as advised above. Here’s a good blog by a Scottish woman Rachel Black with some tips for socialising sober.
  • Beware the enablers. Unfortunately, I seem to find myself often reading Modern Drunkard as well as being around people (my husband included) who are constantly reaching for a bottle, which makes it difficult, if I’m honest, for me to cry off the sweet stuff. I’m not saying it’s their fault, I’m conscious I have to “own” my own behaviour. But you have to be strong to resist a glass or two when you see others merrily quaffing away on a nightly basis. I don’t really have a good solution for this but you can employ…
  • Short pours and Water into Wine. If you feel like you simply can’t say no, you can try to negate the effects a bit by watering down your wine (note: this does not mean you can have twice as much!) If you’re making cocktails, give yourself the short pour while being extra-generous to the other drinkers. Yep – throw those dirty alcos under the bus if it protects you!
  • Tea is good. If you do find yourself drinking and craving more… or if by some miracle you’ve been good all night but get a sudden late urge, tea is an excellent “cap-off”. For me, a cuppa in the evening sends a message to myself of: that’s it, booze-time over, warm drink and bed is next.
  • Brushing your teeth can have a similar effect to a cup of tea.

Good luck, enjoy not being hungover and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

PS: Got any more practical tips for laying off the sauce? Let me know in the comments below…

Winter Wonderland

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It’s been snowing for four days straight in Zurich and it looks so pretty! Wow, the huge picture-windows of our apartment really come into their own right now. We can laze around in a post-Xmas haze watching the snowflakes fall, float and flurry from all different angles. Which is pretty much all I’ve been doing. At the risk of sounding lame: it’s quite magical.

Despite living in Europe for 8 years, I’m still a relative novice when it comes to snow. This stuff is light and fluffy but DEEP now: 20-30cms where it sits undisturbed on top of fences and cars (including ours, which seems to be the only one in the street that hasn’t moved since the snow started!) What I didn’t realise is how it also piles up so tall on tree branches; it looks like a scene from one of those soft-glitter Christmas cards. Whatever divine designer sketched out winter trees to be dark and leafless during snowfalls really had the right idea. Very stylish in black and white! At night it’s not as dark because of all the whiteness around… maybe that was part of the idea too. To brighten up those long winter evenings. heh.

Even the snowfall itself – so much gentler than rain. The flakes hang softer in the air, tumbling downward but also sideways, circling and eddying about. They’re bigger than raindrops – pure-white dust bunnies or feather fluffs -and it feels like you can almost see each individual one. Sometimes a gust of wind will throw a thick white shower off the trees, it’s like powder or dry ice skooting along the pavements and gusting past street lights.

Snow is weird though – because suddenly there’s all this extra… stuff… in piles around the neighbourhood. Like, how can the world produce all this additional substance coated over everything? And when it melts it’s just kind of … gone. Maybe I’m not making much sense. But what else is like snow?

Part of me feels as though I should be making more of it. Taking P out to build snowmen and go sledding (HI just bought a sled so we’ll ride the hills of the chuchgrounds opposite our place over the NYE / weekend break) but the snow is still falling, it’s slippy out there and my centre of gravity’s completely thrown by the baby bump right now. (I’m not just being paranoid about snow danger: even trams are coming off icy rails and careening into our local supermarket!) So I think we’ll just stay put and enjoy the spectacle. The pics really don’t do it justice.


Toucan time

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We got our new (second hand) car last week so there was only one thing to do on the weekend: Road Trip!

We drove about 2 hours to Papiliorama – a slice of Belize Rainforest located just south of Switzerland’s capital city, Bern. It was great. The outside temp was about 1 degree Celsius but inside the geodomes it was a toasty 20-27.  So actually quite a worthwhile winter jaunt!

There were several different sections. First we went into the Jungle Trek bit – it’s a recreation of a 10,000 hectare piece of rainforest the Papiliorama Foundation sponsors in South America and contains exotic birds, lizards (chamelions etc), coatis and peccary pigs. The toucans were particularly impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen one in real life before and I kind of expected them to be bigger. But they’re a good size, similar to a Kookaburra and with that fantastic beak. I mostly hate birds but Kookaburras and Toucans are awesome.

Next we did a circuit of the outside bit – maybe not as successful in winter. Particularly the Swiss Highland bug dome, where everything was dead or hibernating. The farm section was good though – cute baby dwarf goats and the large hairy pigs were excellent grunters: SQUEEEEHHH!

Next we visited the butterfly dome, which was really enchanting. So many colourful and beautifully patterned butterflies flitting about. P wasn’t wildly impressed by this, he is a man after my own heart – seen it, move on! But it was warm and somehow quite peaceful to be there among the floating insects and stinky fruit they feed on. Speaking of stinky, the final bit we visited was the Nocturnarama dome – and I’m glad we did. It was almost pitch black and had an excellent musky stink from the nocturnal beasts housed within – mostly monkey / rodent type things – like tree racooons. Tiny bats were flitting all about and in the centre they had a big pool with freshwater stingrays (P LOVES stingrays) and big Amazonian fish. There were also Ocelots but we couldn’t spot them, and Caimans, which looked completely freaky in the UV lights – like glowing dinosaurs.

The whole place was sweetly un-crowded in the way of many Swiss attractions (not sure if this was due to the season/Christmas being so close or just the usual Swiss thing of less people, less craziness: I am still getting used to good things being “easy” and not rammed after London!) and also sweetly dinky with a crappy, expensive cafe that was exactly what we wanted after our drive. Definitely worth the trip and looking forward to exploring more Swiss family attractions in 2015!

PS: Thanks to everyone who contacted me after my last Sux Baby post. I really appreciate all the support and I am feeling a bit better. x

Toddler time  

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A rather mundane post about the frustrations of a day spent toddler-wrangling…

As parents of young children will know, it’s expected that, on the days you’re home with them as primary carer, you take your kids out to the park (or some equally worthy place of child-centred activity: a friend’s house, playgroup, family-friendly cafes, the zoo etc.) Sometimes I find this a bit of a fraught activity. My son often says he wants to go initially, but when it comes to the ritual of actually getting dressed, shoes on, out of the house, he objects. Strongly. This is usually because he’s in the middle of some little game of his own devising, so I have the double whammy of tearing him away from self-perpetuated activity, coupled with the fact I’m not that plussed about going out myself. (I think I’ve become a bit agoraphobic since moving to Swizerland – fear of foreign places). And pregnant: it’s all soo much harder trying to manoeuvre physically and mentally right now.

Also – is this as recent phenomenon / modern parenting trap? My mum and her peers seem to think it’s slightly bonkers the way parents these days around and try to do something with/for the kid EVERY DAY. In their time it was much more about the child fitting the parents’ routine, it seems. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten. I’m also really starting to wonder if it’s one of those situations that’s worse for the part-time parent? Full-time stay at home, you’ve got the routine going a bit more smoothly (maybe?! I seem to remember this from my year off on maternity leave but of course that was with a baby. This is probably just a BS grass-is-greener feeling on my part). Part time, it seems like you’re constantly juggling and adjusting and so is your child. Those three or four days a week of daycare are great, but it often feels like you’re right back at amateur hour when the “mum time” kicks in…

Anyway so, back to my toddler day. We finally make it out of the house but I realize I also need to get some groceries in. Is the park in any way near or convenient to any shops? Is it fuck. Ok so now begin the negotiations of what we do first. Park first or shops first. You can imagine what a 3-year-old who has no idea of the joys of delayed gratification is gunning for. Ok so park. We get there. It is closed. Great. So… the other park it is. To get there, we may as well detour past the shops. But I’m already feeling somewhat defeated. Why is it so hard to achieve two relatively simple things? Park and shops? Why must I lug my prego belly so far just to buy food and go on the swings? Sigh.

We make it to the shops, I haven’t brought the list because I’d been thinking we’d just go to the park but once I was out, it seemed crazy not to swing by the supermarket as well. I get a clutch of goods comprised of some stuff I remember off the list, a few things I’ve thought of since and various bits that catch my eye as we whip through. I wonder, for the 837th time since P was born, if anyone without a buggy in the supermarket realises how bloody awkward and annoying it is to try to shop with one. Manhandling the stroller with one hand, while an increasingly weighty shopping basked dangles off the other arm… and pregnant. Ugh.

We leave and by now I’ve decided that fuck it, it’s already noon and we need to buy some food for lunch and we can take it to the park and have it as a picnic. This food will be Macdonalds. Fuck it. Yes, I feel bad, yes, part of me has THE FEAR that having fast food right now will set a dangerous precedent with P but it’s been a rough morning. The doctor told me yesterday after clocking my low-ish weight gain with this pregnancy “it’s ok to eat!” And I want a treat. I steel myself for feeling like slapper mum of the year and walk into maccas, negotiating the large stroller round school bags of teens and inadvertently ramming ankles. The area in front of the counter is packed. So full there are not even clearly defined queues . I can’t deal with it, I can’t be bothered and, literally  we can’t even fit. We trundle back out. “Are we going to the park now?” Asks P who, in all honesty, has been pretty patient up until now. “Yes” I sigh, thinking of Burger King one street over but knowing it will be equally full of student lunchers.

We make our way to the park. I have to wheedle and cajole P to hop out of the buggy to walk up the steep hill to get there – it’s too heavy for me to push with him in and the shopping, and did I mention 8 months pregnant? Finally he agrees. We get to the park. We stop for a pastry snack on a park bench in the sun. It’s nice. We get to the play area. It’s completely deserted. I remember that I sort of hate the park. Where is everyone? Am I missing something? Sheesh it’s no wonder I feel lonely. Of course, the times when another parent-and-child are there, they speak in German so I’m out of the picture either way. It’s almost more isolating when that happens, in fact.

I push him on the swing for a while, he demands more, more, more. I make bargains about finishing and have to back down every time. This is why parenting is so much harder than office work: the emotional undermining . Constantly being denied, overridden, bossed about by a 3 year old who in no way knows better than you and, in fact, you’re meant to be guiding to become a decent human being. Others have said this better than me. I can’t be bothered looking up the links to the articles right now.

I try to look around and enjoy the glorious autumn display of trees, leaves are all the colours, from bright lime green, yellow, orange and all shades of brown. A puff of wind sends a shower of them spiralling to the ground, looking up, it’s like a gentle leaf snowfall spinning out in the sky above me. It’s really beautiful. There’s squirrels and birds flitting about in the thinning branches and almost no one around, a few dog walkers passing, pleasant, productive sounds of hammering and home renovations nearby. But it doesn’t sustain me. We’re back to negotiations. I’m bored of pushing this shitty swing and it’s nearly 1pm now, we need to go home and eat a proper lunch. I don’t know where this Timetable Of Correct Parenting comes from, I just know I need to adhere to it as well as possible or I’ll feel even worse. As he screams and cries and I give in once again, I have tears my eyes. How can I feel so defeated after just a couple of hours? What do you do when a depression trigger is taking your son to the park?

We get home, he goes straight back to his toys. I can’t be bothered insisting on lunch although I eat some myself. When he asks for TV an hour later, I capitulate. When I finally convince him to eat, around 3.30pm, we have a 20-minute long fight about butter – whether it’s on the toast I’ve made him (of course it is, but he insists it’s not and demands I remake the meal to his specifications) which involves him crying and us arguing until I finally dab a token amount of butter on top of the already-spread toast and he eats it.

I’m sometimes get so sick of this motherhood gig, to whom do I address my resignation letter?

Zurück in Zürich


Back in Zürich. 30 weeks pregnant. The flight wasn’t too bad considering, and no one asked for any Doctor’s notes or anything but I’m definitely grounded now for the time being. P was so well behaved. I’m starting to feel like I was an idiot not to just stop at one child. How could another boy compare?

Weird arriving back. The apartment seemed like a blank space half-filled with some of our stuff (Did we used to have more furniture?) It’s familiar but it doesn’t really look, smell or feel like “home”.

It seems like a reasonable time to start panicking about giving birth. I’ve been blocking a lot of stuff out while on holiday. And that was nice. Unfortunately I think I have to face some reality checks now.

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like there’s much here for me in Zuri going forward – no job, no family, few friends, that damn language barrier etc. But I have to stick it out for the time being and try to “make the most of it” whatever the fuck that means. So far today, that involves grocery shopping, buying antacid and going through the bills. Woo! This should take me about half a day. Then there’s just the rest of my life to fill.

It’s definitely Autumn here. The leaves are falling from the trees and it’s dark from 5pm – 7am. I guess it’s time to start thinking about Christmas…

I will write some more interesting, longer entries soon. I’ve got a few thoughts on Australia – Sydney, Perth etc. to cover. And hopefully some more positive emotions about Switzerland will emerge too. We’re going to try to buy a car so that should be all sorts of fun and games. For now, just saying I’m back: Hello.

Poor kid, Rich town

Coogee Beach, Sydney Australia

Coogee Beach

I’ve been back in my hometown of Sydney for a week now and it’s really got me thinking about relative riches/poverty. There’s many ways to be rich and/or poor of course, and possibly even more ways to feel or perceive those states of being.

But I’ll start with the obvious – financial. I’ve read studies about whether people prefer a higher income but to be less well off than their neighbours/peers or a lower income but feel better off. And it seems that many people are happier feeling slightly better off than those around them, regardless of actual income. I tend to agree. (Google “relative income satisfaction” for actual info – I might be projecting here!)

When we lived in the UK, we were in a fairly gritty area of North London by dent of buying the best house we could afford without taking out too sickeningly large a mortgage. Anyway, we were certainly part of the new wave of gentrifiers in our particular street and subsequently, we felt quite affluent in our surroundings. Of course, in London, it’s very easy to feel poor too, almost no matter how many ££s you have. Just spend an afternoon around St James’s, Mayfair, Chelsea, Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, etc. and you start to despair that you’ll ever “make it” in that way. Give up, go home… or move to Tottenham.

In Zurich, it’s kind of the opposite for us. We are the poor kids in a rich town. Not that we’re doing badly. But there’s so much wealth there with all the bankers, lawyers, watchmakers (!) and millionaire playboys and playgirls (playpeople?) about. Plus everything is so expensive, even just normal groceries. And you need to take out a small personal loan if you want to eat out regularly. It doesn’t really worry me that much, although it’s a bit depressing to think while there, we won’t get ahead and, if anything, will slowly leach our savings away, particularly if we want to Take Advantage of All Zurich and Being In Switzerland has to offer – eg: holidays, skiing, eating food. I guess that’s what you get for moving to one of the world’s most expensive towns in the world’s most expensive country (depending on which survey you read).

Unfortunately in Zurich at this stage, we’re also poor in other ways. We don’t have much of a social life, we have very few friends so far, no family, we’re not particularly sporty and we have a toddler so adventurous hikes or suchlike are out of reach for now. Plus we’re mostly illiterate, which is horrible. Even health-wise, I’ve been suffering morning sickness and HI’s latest bout of 2 months hard yakka averaging 5 hours sleep/night has put us behind the 8-ball on that front. Thank goodness we have nothing seriously wrong and P is healthy at least.

So I’m holidaying in Australia. The world’s fourth-most expensive country. And I have to say I’m enjoying it, but it’s also making me sad. I’m loving it because I feel so rich here in the best ways: I am a wealthy woman in terms of friends, family, beautiful city, lovely living conditions (thanks to mum & dad and my in-laws), amazing beaches, birdsong. Easy shopping (and groceries seem so cheap after Switzerland!), in fact, easy everything with my own language, really. Don’t get me started on the relief I feel dealing with authorities, shop assistants, anyone when for once I know all the words and have the right accent!

But… and I hate to say this because it upsets me to hear so many people in Australia moaning and cyring poor when they have it SO GOOD… but but but… the house prices here are insane. And I think I’d like to move back. Seriously. But I don’t know if we could actually afford to. Of course, that is ridiculous. We could absolutely afford to – except we wouldn’t be able to come back and live the lifestyle I fantasise about. Which is not to say some incredible 5-bedroom villa overlooking Coogee Beach, but just a nice, proper house in a decent suburb. Our mortgage would be AUD$1 million plus for this. Insane. Or we could rent, which would be fine. And it’s not gonna happen anytime soon anyway – we need to give Zurich at least another 12-24 months. And by then, we might truly love it and have gained some wealth where it counts – in friends and good experiences.

But right now, I feel a little bit stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m not where I want to be and I do not know quite how I can get there, or even if I can get there. And feeling like a poor kid in a rich town sux.


Home Sweet Hauptbahnhof?

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We took a mini-break to Lake Como on the weekend and it was lovely. It’s great to have places such as this within easy striking distance (3.5 hours by train). I feel a tad guilty that we haven’t explored more of Switzerland itself yet, but there’s plenty of time for that. The train journey is amazing. The same route as I took to Milan a few months ago. And it was good practice for entertaining a toddler in a confined space for several hours (result: not great, the 12-hour plane trip on Sunday without HI’s help is going to be nasty).

Lake Como is spectacular. I was actually unprepared for how beautiful it was. According to Wikipedia, it’s been a tourist destination since Roman times and it’s easy to see why. Very dramatic landscape with steep mountains rising on all sides of the lake, which is quite large – it took us nearly three hours to putter on a Ferry from end to end (almost). We stayed in a tiny town called Carate Urio, right round the corner from George Clooney’s house. Mr Clooney was getting married on this same weekend in Italy, in fact. Our invite must’ve got lost in the mail…

Wow it was steep though – there was a road for cars but the easiest access to the water from our AirBnB apartment was via winding staircases down the mountainside between other houses. These little cobblestone walkways seemed quite medieval and were somewhat confusing, especially once it got dark and was raining! Luckily we found our way home on the first night (after eating one of the town’s two restaurants Il Filo d’Olio) without overshooting the mark by too far. Next day I completely misjudged the timing to get down to the ferry dock and ended up having to run for it. As there’s only 3 ferries a day, I was very glad to just make it in time! My baby belly didn’t thank me for the exertion though. Phew. I was quite glad the ferry trip itself was a couple of hours so I had time to recover.

We had lunch at Bellagio – a really pretty town complete with requisite stone staircases up the hill, loads of restaurants, salumerias, gelato shops and souvenir stuff. Because the ferries back were few and far between, we didn’t hang around too long, and were rewarded for our punctuality by discovering a “rapido” ferry departing to Como (the town) at the same time as the one we were planning to catch back to Carate Urio. So we hopped on that and spent a few hours exploring Como as well, gelatos in hand. Headed back on a tiny ferry, which was lovely – stunning scenery all round. (Actually, a lot of the lakeside towns reminded me of Mosman Bay back in Sydney! Maybe Mosman is not quite so impressive…)

So it was a fantastic day that was only marred by the realisation when we got back to the apartment that we had lost Mimi, P’s favourite soft toy. Aaargh, not again!! This is the second Mimi we have lost since moving to Switzerland 😦 😦 But good news, the Ferry Company just wrote back to HI’s email to say they found her, so she will be returned… maybe not in time for Aust, but all good!

Heading back on Sunday, there was some confusion with the trains (an Italian rail strike? hard to tell) but once again, our luck was in and we caught a direct train to Zurich within half an hour of arriving at the main station in Como. Trip back with toddler was again somewhat trying but fine. It was interesting to arrive back at Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB) and realise it’s starting to feel like “home” – or at the very least it’s very familiar and actually quite comforting. It is a nice station after all, quite large but fairly open and airy and SO EASY to walk right off the platform onto a tram home. I hope I still feel this way when we return from Aus, although not sure Zuri Flughaven is quite as lovable as the HB. (Then again, Tyler Brûlé is always raving about it in his FT column – hmm another local we’re still waiting to get an invite from. I wonder if he attended the Clooney nuptials?)

So that’s the mini-break… now for the maxi!