The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Puddle time

It has been raining a lot recently. Every day is grey and wet. The main beneficiary of this situation is Mtoto. He probably thinks puddles were invented for him. Big ones, small ones, deep ones, shallow ones, he’s in them all.



The other day he was out in the rain with a pal who had less appropriate puddle-jumping footwear – Mtoto wears his fleece-lined winter boots. Mtoto’s friend kept finding puddles and shouted to Mtoto that he should jump in them. Mtoto duly obliged. Cue glee all round.

I’m all for encouraging Mtoto’s love of puddles. It means that he’s excited to go out in the rain – whereas lots of children get conditioned to dislike the rain. Just think about all the negative connotations us adults give to rain, “bad weather”, ” mucky rain”, “a terrible day” and so on. It’s hardly a surprise that our kids don’t like wet weather!


Tall tall Duplo tower

Guess what we made today? Yes, you have probably already guessed from the headline – a Duplo tower.

In the past, this would have been a normal day at “the office”, but since we moved onto regular Lego when Mtoto turned three the Duplo has hardly had a look in.

After two days of full-time stay-at-home fathering, plus every spare hour spent on voluntary work, I needed a slow start to the day. We spent a good chunk of time reading and laughing at Mr Men and Little Miss stories this morning, then after breakfast we got down to business.

Duplo bricks are great fun for toddlers, but compared to Lego they feel quite basic, clunky and uninspiring. But that was what we needed today – some mindless ground.


Of course, things don’t always turn out like that. First we both built towers as tall as Mtoto. It was satisfying but not challenging. And the need for mindless activities evaporated into a new challenge – a tower as tall as me.


Once that was done, we realised that the sky, or rather the ceiling, was the limit. After one false start we did it, with a tower just short of the ceiling. Considering that I’m working largely one-handed, it felt satisfying to complete the challenge.


The tower was approximately 130 storeys high and rather bent up top. And that was the basis for some interesting conversations about buildings, gravity and balance – after all, every day is a school day.


Finally we went online to learn how tall Duplo towers get. While the Lego records are frequently challenged and well-documented (over 35 metres tall) you have to dig around a bit for Duplo. On the record setters website some guy has a tower around 2.6 metres tall, which is similar to our tower. But that’s only the half of it. On Ben Akrin’s  blog, Ben shows a tower he and his kid made that was over 5 metres tall and he includes a great video of a tower being knocked over – Mtoto loved watching it!


We spent the rest of the morning playing train tracks, Duplo, animals and Winnie the Pooh stories. And this afternoon we are going on an adventure.

Oh and our tower came down, gleefully pushed over by Mtoto.

Cloud in a jar

Today Mtoto and I became home scientists and we made our own clouds. Really we did loads of things but this was our special experiment.

I found the instructions for this in a book, but there are loads of examples online, it turns out.

We used:
An empty gherkin jar
Hot water
Ice cubes
Food colouring

We got the hairspray especially (around 4 CHF in the Coop) but everything else was in stock already. We usually buy our food colouring from our local Migros.


I boiled the water in the kettle and got the ice cube rack out of the freezer. I poured lots of water into the jar and added way too much colouring. Really you only need the water to be 2-3 cm deep and it doesn’t have to be as hot as boiled. You also only need a few drops of food colouring.

I sloshed the water around in the jar, then put its lid on upsidedown. Once I had shown mtoto how to get the ice out of the tray he loved taking responsibility for that job and he carefully placed each cube on the upturned lid.


Then I removed the lid and I sprayed hairspray into the jar and put the lid back on.

Mtoto was amazed by the clouds and loved watching them swirling around in the jar. Some escaped and we were both excited to see the clouds rise. Mtoto was soon in charge of spraying the hairspray into the jar, though I had to help him by holding the can.


We talked about safety issues such as not spilling the water and not spraying hairspray near anyone’s faces.

It was also a great opportunity to talk about how clouds form and Mtoto does ask a lot of questions, so it was a satisfying experiment. So satisfying that we repeated it to show L when we had the play dough out after dinner tonight.

In case you’re wondering, adding hot water to the jar crests warm moist air, which rises and is cooled by the ice above the lid. Then it needs a surface to condense onto to become cloud droplets and the hairspray provides this. As the warm air rises and the cool air sinks, it makes a swirling effect.

It wasn’t clear what the colouring does – perhaps it helps make a colourful contrast between the water and the cloud.

I am the crazy man skipping down the street

We were skipping along the road. We didn’t have skipping ropes so Mtoto said we had to wave our arms about in the air, as if we had skipping ropes. So this is what we did.

Of course, I have one arm in a splint at the moment, so I must have been quite a sight as I leapt about, waving one arm in the air. Especially to the man who came out of an apartment block and almost collided with me.

Momentarily, I stopped jumping and waving my arms around. But then I realised that I didn’t care what this man thought of me but I do care about having fun with Mtoto and feeding his imagination. I gave the man a smile and then I carried on with my crazy dance down the street.

In Geneva we never get tired of the mountains

Today we had lunch with some friends who live on the 9th floor of an apartment block in Grand Saconnex. I spent a lot of time looking out of the window to the snowcapped Jura mountains. Wow!


There’s something that you should know about living in Geneva – in 17 months I haven’t met anyone who has become tired of looking at the mountains. Sure, people miss where they came from and lots of people move on, but those majestic mountains stay.



Mategnin is one of those places that you would probably would never know was there, unless you looked for it. Around 10 minutes walk from the end of the 14 tram route at Meyrin Graviere, Mategnin is a Pro Natura managed nature reserve.

We have been there several times, me and the boy. We have seen Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, Teal, Mallards, Nuthatches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, mice and more.

Despite the delightfully long boardwalk, the semi-hide and the information signs, Mategnin isn’t ultimately a destination in itself, but somewhere we go when we are going somewhere else, like Meyrin, CERN or Prévussin.

So it was today, when we were off to see friends for lunch over the border at Prevussin. We stopped off in Mategnin and saw Jays, Mallards, a Grey Heron, a Wren, Robins, Chaffinches and a Nuthatch.
Once we were out the other side of the boardwalk we enjoyed the “no unicorns” sign, which must mean that unicorns are allowed everywhere else, right?

We also saw a car from Andorra and an old Prefect car in Meyrin, adding to the oddities of the day.

the right time, the right place

Not quite believing that yesterday’s Black Stork was a Black Stork, I had dropped an email to B, who knows about these things. In part of his reply he said that the Black Stork is “a rare migrant that is flying through Switzerland every year, but hard to see. That’s some being in the right time at the right place.”

Seeing the Black Stork was a highlight of the walk yesterday, a bit of wow in an otherwise pleasant day. But it was just a few seconds, as B says, of being at the right time in the right place.

And so to today, when Mtoto and I went for what turned out to be a 12-mile hike in the Geneva countryside. It was a good walk, taking up a great chunk of the day. And we had another few seconds of wow, of being in the right time at the right place.

We saw a Black Woodpecker. I’ve seen Green Woodpeckers and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers before. I might even have seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker now and then, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it. I had never seen a Black Woodpecker. Until today. I was walking along a track, pushing the buggy. A bird, which at first I thought was a crow, in a hedgerow to our right was disturbed by our presence and made a fuss. It flew out almost in front of us and I immediately realised it was a Black Woodpecker. I only just had presence of mind to take a couple of photos in its general direction as it flew away from us. Undeniably, though, this was my first Black Woodpecker spot.

Keeping up the Black- theme, we also saw a Black Necked Grebe today, as well as a Little Grebe, young Great Crested Grebes, an Oystercatcher and several birds that I haven’t identified yet. We talked a lot Mtoto and I. We sang a lot too. We played word games and we worked on our counting. Today it was the right time and the right place.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.



Black Stork down

Today, we were answering a challenge. A friend had invited me on a walk, at some date hence, but she said that it wasn’t buggy-friendly. We have a great carrier, an Osprey. And we also have a great buggy, a Mountain Buggy. Mtoto loves the carrier with its high vantage but it is a pain on my back after a while. Mtoto loves the buggy with his front-first vantage but it is a pain on my hand after a while. But the great advantage of the buggy is that walking companions will offer to push a buggy whereas they rarely offer to take the carrier. So Mtoto, Edward and I took the buggy out to Gland to test out the Toblerone Walk.

Sadly, the Toblerone Walk has nothing to do with chocolate. It’s a visual thing. Fearing invasion, the Swiss built this anti-tank defence in the 1930s. It probably should have been demolished long ago, but the story goes that some folk wanted the next generations to know what life was like way back then, so they left the barriers in place, as well as a soldiers’ canteen from 1944 and raised funds to keep them and make a walk alongside them. It’s not as bad as it could be, thanks to the walk also being next to a river and often not next to the Toblerone at all. But could it be done with a buggy?

The answer is that yes it can be done with a buggy, but my friend was also right. It is hard going at times and there are probably about 10 times in the walk when it becomes necessary to carry the buggy, though not for long. There’s the odd flight of steps up or down, a couple of places where the path goes between the pyramids where the gap is rather narrow and the odd bit where tree routes or rocks in the ground make for slopes that even the Mountain Buggy struggles.

The walk starts close to the lake, but as we were coming at it by public transport from Geneva we took the train from Gland and walked to the path from the station. We crossed the road opposite the Mr Bull English pub and turned left past a smart bakery and into an industrial zone. There were diggers, there were cranes, there was dodgy car lots, there were skips. But best of all for Mtoto there was a Post Bus depot. Woo! He’s only been on a Post Bus once, but it has become legendary in our family, so seeing a whole fleet of these buses was something special. We didn’t dwell though and were soon in sight of the Toblerones and turned right to follow the path and the river.

One of the awesome things about going for walks in Switzerland is that as long as you know where you want to go, you can rely on the footpath signs to take you there. As long as you look out for the occasional yellow diamonds and signposts, you don’t really need a map. We had one anyway, the Swiss National Map 1:25,000 Nyon (number 1261). And I had a print out from the Toblerone Line website, so we were well-covered.

The past few months have been tough on us for bird sightings – the dense foliage has made spotting birds difficult and the intense heat has stopped us from going out beyond the Bains des Paquis, the library and the parks in Geneva. But today we had some special moments, though notably they all came when we had gone above the village of Begnins and had left the Toblerones behind.

The first great sighting was when we heard the call of a Common Buzzard but couldn’t see it. Then it came again and again and eventually we saw a buzzard fly off from a tree on the other side of the valley. I could make out a small amount of movement under the tree and with my camera I identified an animal. At first I thought it was a dog, then perhaps a fox. Examining photos later on, we discovered that it was a deer.

Then, a couple of minutes later, Edward saw a bird in the sky. Usually, it’s a black kite or a common buzzard. I’ve got hundreds of photos of them from the last year and there’s rarely anything special about them. But I looked up anyway, focussed my camera and shot away. And then realised that I was watching something different. Edward shot it too and called it there and then as a stork. Consultation with a bird book when we got home suggested a Black Stork because of its size and shape and the colours underneath. But its sightings suggested that it this wasn’t a common location for a Black Stork and especially not until autumn at least. So I sent a photo to B, who introduced me to the Ornitho website and he confirmed it as a Black Stork. So we got a Black Stork down on the list for 2015 and I got a play on words for the post title today, hurrah!

The third great sighting was of butterflies. Lots of them. Several different species. Dragonflies and bees too. I’m not at all good at identification of these creatures so I can’t tell you what we saw. But it was fantastic nonetheless.


At last, after lunch, we got up to Bassins station on the Nyon to St Cergue line. To Mtoto’s great excitement he got to press a button at the station to let the train driver know that we were there and wanted to get on. He also got his ticket validated. We got a train back down to Nyon and another to Geneva.

All in all a good day out. We walked 10.2km in 3 hours 15 minutes, with an elevation of 385 metres. We had a picnic lunch sat upon some logs and looking at two parked tractors. According to Mtoto, a Gruffalo and some bears walked with us for most of the way. But neither Edward nor I were lucky enough to see them.

77 days until the 2015 London Marathon

With only 11 weeks left until the 2015 London Marathon, I took off yesterday on my first long training run. I was supposed to run 10 miles. If I was sensible about it, I would have run exactly 5 miles and then run the same way home again. But it didn’t work like that in my mind. Instead I started thinking about where I would like to go (Sionnet Marshes) and I set off. But I didn’t go straight there, oh no. Instead, I decided to run through the village of Cologny and up a steep hill, Chemin des Ruelles, which I usually enjoy walking down. There are some interesting flat-roofed houses off this street, including one with some intriguing art in the garden. Cologny and other surrounding villages have been dubbed Geneva’s Beverly Hills and in recent years wealthy Russians, Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been moving in.

From Cologny to Vandoeuvres, another village with lots of private-gated homes, across the fields to Choulex and finally over to Sionnet Marshes. Along the way I saw woodpeckers, Blackbirds, tits, Robins, sparrows and some wonderful treecerepers. I didn’t go right through Sionnet, as I was getting cold and I was over 5 miles out, but I decided to run homeward along the Seymaz river. We’ve often seen Kingfishers along here, but in the gloom I mostly saw Moorhens and Mallards. And then, for one glorious moment, I came across a treecreeper, at about my waist height, which didn’t move from the tree by the path until I was almost upon it. I could have reached out and touched it. And then it flew. Time went from slow motion to normal speed again. I followed the Seymaz all the way to Chene and by then was getting a bit too cold.

Finally, one hour and fifty-one minutes and thirty-eight seconds after setting off, I was 11.45 miles down the road, but best of all I was home. Some chocolate and a quick bath later, I was off out again to the pub to see some friends and catch the end of the France – Scotland rugby game.

My pace in the run was an average of 9:45 minutes per mile. Still a bit faster than my intended race day pace. I’ll be using my next few runs to try and slow down some more and take it really easy. But the main message I took from the run was that my knees are okay and the ice skating injury wasn’t so bad. Although I’ve not been running as much as I should, by not running when my legs were sore, I’ve been looking after them. Hopefully the break will stand me in good stead in the rest of my training programme.

Hey diddle diddle

Hey diddle diddle

The cushion and the computer,

The song jumped over the number three;

The watch laughed,

To see the bear,

And the bench ran away with the window.

I have no idea how many words Mtoto has in his vocabulary, but there sure are a lot. He’s found another way to test them out in the past few days, using the popular refrain about the cat and the fiddle, converting it into all kinds of silliness. We first heard Mtoto using the poem one evening in his cot. No doubt he’s heard the poem many times from several poetry books that we have. The first few times that he used it himself he stuck to the original words. But as he’s grown in confidence with it, he’s been mixing it up. Sometimes the spoon jumps over the moon. In other versions, all the key words are replaced. Of course, as he tries something out, we praise him and we laugh. And he’s encouraged and he does it again, with some more words.

I love listening to Mtoto using his words.


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