The Best Days of Their Lives

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

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 3)

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch was this weekend. It’s a great activity that gets people all over the UK, young and old, out watching birds. We only didn’t take part this year because we live in the wrong country. It is thanks to the RSPB and teachers at my primary school that I have such an interest in birds today.

Though even when we did take part, it wasn’t always much fun. Our London home had a garden but was on a corner plot with a road on each side and to top it off our neighbour had cats. The first couple of times that we took part we saw no birds at all in our garden in our hour. We even decided to count birds flying over a garden but that didn’t bring the count up. We could see the odd bird from our window, but they didn’t count. I remember that the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch allowed you, in theory, to register an hour spent with no birds seen but in practice when we tried to log it on their website it wouldn’t work unless we recorded a bird being seen!

It was only when our neighbour with cats moved away that we got anywhere.

We had some bird feeders up and the best one we ever had came from the RSPB shop and had suckers so that it stuck to the window. It meant that we could see the birds from our dining table. Occasionally it fell off, especially in very bad weather, and it ended up so badly cracked that we chucked it out rather than bring it with us. But it was fun for a year or so and I would recommend it to anyone interested in attracting birds for the first time. Our most frequent visitors to the bird feeder were Blue Tits and Great Tits as well as one rather enterprising mouse, who leapt from a nearby tree to the feeder. Hmm, maybe the mouse contributed to the feeder falling off? Whatever the reason, I attribute Mtoto’s interest in birds to this bird feeder.

Once the cats had gone, we also had regular visits from Dunnocks. They were so regular that they set up a nest in our hedge and had a baby there! The Dunnocks weren’t table feeders and used to hang out on the ground instead. They were also quite shy, but we could often see them when we left our back door open. Good times.

On the day of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in 2014 quite a lot of birds flew over our garden and descended on a rowan tree in our street. We couldn’t work out what they were at first but eventually we realised, after a bit of bird book viewing, that they were fieldfares. I don’t think I had ever seen them before and I haven’t seen them since.

Today, in honour of the 2015 event, we did a bit of birdwatching. We’ve got feeders on both our front and back balconies but all we saw was sparrows, the same as every day. But Mtoto likes sparrows, largely because he sees them at such close quarters. Some of them have even been known to stay feeding while he’s playing on the balcony so maybe they like him too. And although they’re everywhere in Geneva, according to RSPB statistics, sightings of sparrows have declined by 60% since the first event in 1979.

I was excited to see on Twitter that some of my running friends from Hilly Fields Parkrun had been over to Hilly Fields to do the Birdwatch today. They even had RSPB charts to help them record their sightings. The count can be done on the RSPB website directly too, where Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Carrion Crows, Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Collared Doves, Dunnocks, Feral Pigeons, Goldfinches, Great Tits, Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Jackdaws, Long-tailed Tits, Magpies, Robins, Song Thrushes, Starlings, Woodpigeons and Wrens are the top birds listed. They also ask people to record their sightings of Badgers, Grey Squirrels, Red Squirrels, Muntjac Deer, Roe Deer, Hedgehogs, Slow Worms and Grass Snakes! The last three should be hibernating, they say, but people might still see them.

Another Birdwatch connection that excited me was that a teacher at a primary school in Brockley got in touch with my friends at Frendsbury Community Garden and asked if she could bring her pupils over to do the Birdwatch in the community garden. It was great to hear of another way that local children are being connected to this garden that was so special for us before we moved away.  I also have to thank teachers at my primary school who got our class involved in the Young Ornothologists Club (the youth wing of the RSPB!) many years ago – their efforts has inspired me for in my efforts today.

Today I took a 2 mile walk this afternoon and my knee was fine and mostly I saw Sparrows!

 

 

Five ways that teaching the alphabet is harder than you think

Mtoto invented a game this week. We call it “J Jar of Jam” from the Sesame Street Alphabet Song:

At some point this week Mtoto started adapting “J Jar of Jam” into “J Jar of Something else”. It doesn’t have to be a word beginning with J.

We were going up our street, me pushing the buggy and Mtoto in it. I heard him saying “J Jar of Motorbike”, then “J Jar of Bike” and “J Jar of Window”. At first I repeated each one, giving him some affirmation, but soon I was doing my own ones and we took it in turns, all the way home and carried on once we were inside. Since then we’ve played several times. I realised pretty soon that I could help Mtoto to widen the things he was looking at and what he was naming, as well as affirming his choices. So he might say “J Jar of T-Shirt” and then I would use my next turns to say “J Jar of Sleeve” and “J Jar of Label” to show him the different details in my T-Shirt. He often repeats the ones that I’ve introduced him to, too.

I don’t know that this is going to have much appeal to anyone else, since it has come from our own viewing of the Sesame Street Alphabet song several months ago (and which we haven’t watched for at least a couple of months), but you might have your own version or think how to adapt it.

It reminds me though, that the world of teaching your child the letters of the alphabet isn’t as straight forward as you think it could be. Here are my 5 favourite ways that I’ve discovered so far that the alphabet is tricky to learn.

1. J Jar of…

As you’ve just learned, we don’t just put jam in jars in our household. Anything goes. Though one of my favourites was Mtoto’s “J Jar of Jar of Figs” when there was a jar of figs on the table in front of him.

2. Y is for Boat

In one of Mtoto’s A-Z books or puzzles, there’s a picture of a boat for the letter Y. Of course, we adults know that “Y is for Yacht” but Mtoto didn’t know that so “Y is for Boat”. We have since told him about yachts and he knows the word now, but it is confusing for all concerned.

3. A is for Alligator, no Apple

L was reading an alphabet to Mtoto recently. “A is for Alligator” she read. “No, Mama,” came the reply, “A is for Apple”. L explained that A is the beginning letter for lots of words, but Mtoto wasn’t having it. “A is for Apple,” he said again and again. If you’re only two, maybe you need some certainty in your life?

4. G is for Ruitar

Mtoto is getting good at naming the sounds of each letter. But he doesn’t always follow through with the following word. A great example is G. He gets the “ger” sound perfectly, but guitar? No, It’s more like “Ruitar” at the moment!

5. Letters are numbers

This might be local to Geneva… One of the first places that Mtoto regularly started recognising numbers was on the front of buses and trams. “Pappa, what number is it?” he would ask. “It’s the 12” I might say, if we were on the tram to Carouge. But if we were going out to Meinier again, it would be the Bus A. And the bus to Hermance is the E and the other bus (other than the E that goes through there) to Vessanaz is the G.

"What number is it Pappa?" "Errr, it's the S"

“What number is it Pappa?” “Errr, it’s the S”

Of course, all of this is fairly light-hearted and we’re not worried about any of these developments. He’s got plenty of time to learn letters and numbers and we’re only ploughing ahead with it now because he has shown such great interest in both.

One of my favourite moments this week was when I was showing him his new Thomas the Tank Engine Brio toy. On the bottom it says “THOMAS” and I read the letters to him several times. Then, suddenly, he exclaimed “look Pappa, it’s got A is for Apple in it!”

So what challenges have you faced teaching the alphabet to your kids? I would love to hear about your experiences!

"This bus, my son, is the A to Gy"

“This bus, my son, is the A to Gy”

(While we’re here, for the 2015 daily blog continued themes paragraph: Janathon exercise was a 2 mile walk to get Mtoto to sleep and I saw a Common Buzzard and lots of Blue Tits while visiting friends in Bellvue, then did a quick bird count at Baby Plage, but that was all.)

Geneva walks with a toddler: Meyrin to CERN

We didn’t do this in a straightforward manner. Today we took in two “ends of the lines”, starting our walk at one end of the 14 tram route (Meyrin Graviere) and we finished at CERN at one end of the 18 tram route. This walk wouldn’t take anyone going at a normal speed very long at all, as it is only a couple of miles. But as you’ve probably gathered, we don’t tend to do normal.

Meyrin: it's lovely if you live there, right?

Meyrin: it’s lovely if you live there, right?

I’m sure that if you live in Meyrin, it is lovely. Lots of people live in Meyrin, in their thousands, so it can’t be all bad, right? Well, there are huge concrete blocks everywhere, from six to 15 storeys high. It feels densely populated, even though the blocks are quite well spaced and there’s lots of green space between the buildings. Lots of green space for playgrounds. Though they’re playgrounds of varying quality. Before we left Meyrin for the first time, we spent time in two of them, with great swings and climbing frames. We also visited the Commercial Centre, with at least one supermarket in it and several other shops.

View to Meyrin from the edge of the woods

View to Meyrin from the edge of the woods

To leave Meyrin and head for the woods, the main reason we had come to Meyrin at all, we carried on the road where the 14 tram left off, then turned left down Rue des Lattes. When there’s a crossing over the road, take it, seemingly into a hedge on the other side, then cut through and continue along towards the woods ahead of you to the right. These are the Marais des Crets. We spent a happy while here on the boardwalk that snakes through one end of the woods and marshes. There’s a slightly comical hide here, which is just a fence that isn’t even as tall as me, with some holes for looking out of. We saw five Teal from here, plus some Mallards but most of the action was along the boardwalk itself where we saw Nuthatches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Marsh Tits, Chaffinches, Wrens, Robins and Blackbirds. We also saw a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron flying out of the woods. Oh, we also saw some mice!

Nuthatch in the woods

Nuthatch on the boardwalk

Mouse (left) in the woods

Mouse (left) in the woods

It was a cold day today so we headed back into Meyrin after our stint in the woods, intending to head home. But after a long play in a sandpit and fortified by crisps and cheese and croissants, we decided to walk to CERN.

G is for Geneva. One side is in Geneva, the other is in France

G is for Geneva. One side is in Geneva, the other is in France

 

We cut off a bit of the walk, so didn’t go to the woods a second time, but linked up with the path out of the woods, then followed a path alongside some woods and the Swiss-French border, which was marked by border stones. We kept on the path until we reached Chemin de la Maille, which is recognisable by the site of an opening after woods on both sides, a couple of houses and some bee hives. Here we saw a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper, plus some Woodpeckers and Long-tailed Tits and a Common Buzzard. Keep on this road until you reach a crossroads with a farm to the left, Meyrin in the distance in front of you and CERN off to your right. Turn right, then right again just before the main road, to bring you up to CERN’s visitors’ car park and the 18 tram terminus.

CERN's visitor venue and the tram to Carouge

CERN’s visitor venue and the tram to Carouge

We crossed over to CERN’s reception but you don’t really need to go there unless you want to visit the shop. The only permanent exhibition that’s open is in the dome next to the car park. It’s all IKEA eggshell chairs and interactive domes and tables. They’re not ideal for toddlers as they’re generally above their height. And as the guide in the venue said, you have to insist to the interactive buttons that you want them to do something by pressing forcefully. I didn’t know much about CERN before I went and I think I have learned more from chatting with a runner who works there than I got from the exhibition itself, but it was kind of fun. It reminded me of the sort of thing that gets put on from time to time in the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank in London. All laser lights and spinning numbers and so on.

You have to press the buttons really hard to get them to do anything

You have to press the buttons really hard to get them to do anything

Eventually Mtoto asked to leave, so we did, catching the 18 tram back into town.

The visitor exhibition

The visitor exhibition

Janathon exercise: about 3 miles of walking today.

That Mountain Buggy gets everywhere...

That Mountain Buggy gets everywhere…

2015 birds: the Marsh Tit was a new one. It took ages to see it while comparing the Marsh and Willow Tits in the bird book, but we eventually settled on the Marsh Tit on account of its shorter beard.

 

Parlez-vous Francais?

Parlez-vous Francais? Un peu, mais est-ce que c’est bien? Je ne pense pas.

When I first went to a beer-drinking Dads’ social in Geneva I learned that from a range of time spent in Geneva from one year to five, none of the guys I met had managed to get fluent in French. Admittedly it was a small group to generalise the data from, but I feel that I can say with authority that a lot of people who move to Geneva don’t end up with fluency in French. I was determined not to be like that. But that was then.

The thing is, you can get by in Geneva without speaking French. Lots of people who say that they only speak a tiny bit of English turn out to be better at English than I am at French. At a bird hide on Sunday, I chatted with B who said he spoke only a little English. He knew the names of the birds in English as well as French. His English was very good. I have the same experience again and again in shops. I fall into the easy position of using English and it works. I, at least, am on safe ground.

But I didn’t come to Geneva to always stay on safe ground. I came here with the intention to be a little bit vulnerable and to test myself and my abilities. I came here to continue learning in the journey of life. And sure, I’m doing that in lots of ways. But not really in French.

Of course, I started well. I learned about, and installed, an app on my phone called Duolingo. I did a lot of practice early on. Almost every day. I took test after test on phrases, adjectives, plurals, adjectives, pronouns and so on. And somewhere along the way I stopped. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when, but I suspect it was as early as mid-September. And four months passed and I told myself that I was very busy and it was okay. I was still practising. Once in a while I would do some Duolingo. Occasionally I look at the headlines and pictures in the free 20 minutes newspaper. I read the odd sign. I speak French occasionally in the shop or Post Office and someone says my French is very good, especially as I’ve only been here such a short time. Of course, I’m kidding them, I knew all that French before I got here. At the weekend, I realised that soon we will have been here for six months. And what will I have to show for it? Nothing.

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

So what to do? Today, I had a trial lesson with Maria at Le Français en Famille. Maria set up this school in 2008 to teach parents who wish to take French classes and have their children in the same premises at the same time. I took part in an intermediate lesson. The cost is only ever so slightly more than we have been quoted for private tuition per person (so little difference that it is effectively the same). The key benefit for me is that I can do it in the day, in time that is already at our leisure and Mtoto is in the same place. The class was of five students including me, but only three of us were in attendance today. We practised speaking, understanding and listening and the whole class was conducted in French.

The class takes place in Carouge, close to the centre, so it was easy to get to. Mtoto managed in the creche reasonably well, but did come crying to me with around ten minutes left to go. But he said that he would go again, which was good. Also, us three students went for coffee/play afterwards, which meant that Mtoto got that all-important getting-to-know-you time with at least one of the other children who were there.

In particular, I think that the benefit I can gain from doing a class is the discipline of doing an hour a week, plus homework, so I’ve got a small foundation. Then, if I am committed I can do some Duolingo too and carry on with the small things like practising speaking French with people I meet day-to-day and with family and friends who speak French, like Edward and my mother! It’s got to be done! C’est necessaire!

2015 birds: Thanks to B, mentioned a few days ago, I’ve learned about some birds that I spotted in the past few weeks but hadn’t identified. Yellow bunting and White-cheeked Pintail have been added to my 2015 list, while the Common Reed Bunting was there already.

IMG_9410

A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

I saw a couple of Gulls today. Did you know that there’s no such thing as a Sea Gull? I learned this on the Guardian Weekly football podcast of all places. Apparently, there are lots of different types of Gulls, but none of them are Sea Gulls. A Black-headed Gull, I can tell you that one. In the summer it has a black head. In the winter it has a black spot behind its eye. But what the other Gulls are, well, they continue to all look the same to me, no matter how many times I look in my bird book. Nonetheless, I saw a couple of different ones today, I just don’t know what they are!

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Janathon: Still walking, a couple more miles today, but my knee is still tender so I’m still resting it as much as possible.

It's all Greek, I mean French, to me

It’s all Greek, I mean French, to me

Walks with a toddler: La Plaine to Russin

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

“I’m doing a poo!”

It was a cold and largely solitary walk for Mtoto and me today, from La Plaine to Russin. It took just under 3 hours, as we idled along the way. The only point in the whole walk that we encountered another person was in our second hide of the day. A woman had just come in, when Mtoto announced loudly and proudly that he was doing a poo. If he hadn’t said anything, we would have known anyway because it was one of the more smelly ones. The woman left immediately.

There are advantages to having a toddler with you when you go on a walk. You have to think about their needs and communicate what’s going to happen so that they can understand and can enjoy it. Being with a toddler can force you to stay in one place for longer than you might otherwise have done. And when they’re talking, like Mtoto is, you can have great conversations. Today we talked a lot about bitterns and about trains. We didn’t see any bitterns, but Mtoto was hopeful. The idea to do this walk had come to us from B, who we met at La Bise, the day before. He said that when the lakes ice over, it is easier to see bitterns, especially at the hides near La Plaine. Great, I thought, we’ll go there. Mtoto and me had been once before, last month, with Edward. It had been a nice walk and longer too. But we had seen hardly anything from the hides. And certainly nothing new.

Mtoto had been most excited about going on a train. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine at the moment. Edward has an old wind-up train set and Thomas, as far as Mtoto is concerned, is the star attraction. On last week’s walk with Edward, Mtoto kept asking if we could go to Edward’s apartment afterwards. Sadly for him, the answer was no, because Edward was doing a longer walk than us. Mtoto was very disappointed. Mtoto knows all about Thomas. He knows that Thomas is blue and has a smiley face on the front. And he knows that there’s a yellow number one on the side. This part is particularly exciting for everyone, as Mtoto is just starting to know some numbers and letters.

La Plaine station

La Plaine station

La Plaine is the destination for a cantonal train from Gare Cornavin, running every half an hour during the week. The journey takes about 20 minutes and is presumably popular with commuters as it accesses villages/towns such as La Plaine, Russin, Satigny, Meyrin and the Vernier stop behind IKEA. It also serves the Zimeysa industrial estate, where a lot of luxury British cars are parked during the day. The village of La Plaine has little going for it as far as I can see. There’s a single bakery/cafe, a post office, a school, a dog care shop and that’s all we’ve seen in two visits, except for some industry and lots of homes. The playground was not much of a hit with Mtoto today, though he did enjoy the swing and the football court and thankfully someone had left a ball for us to use. Though Mtoto was really more interested in swinging the gate open and closed than anything else.

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

Then we were off to the hides. At the first, Mtoto was fairly patient, and enjoyed climbing from the ground to the bench to the table and back again. We saw a Kingfisher there for a few minutes, then a Blue Tit and Little Brown Job, but that was all, except some coots in the distance. At the second hide, where Mtoto did a poo and had a nappy change, we saw Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Goosander, Pochards, Crows and a Jay. At the third we saw nothing new and by the fourth, Mtoto was impatient to leave. Looking at the time, I realised that there were about 12 minutes to the next train from Russin to Cornavin or we would have to wait an extra half an hour. Not only that, but we needed to get to the station before the level crossing closed too. We covered the distance in good time, let’s say, including a 400 metres or so sprint at the end, making it over the crossing with seconds to spare. Result! And a nice little bit of exercise to count as my Janathon effort for the day.

View from one of the hides

View from one of the hides

On the way home we stopped off in the Cornavin shopping centre for Mtoto to ride the 1 CHF Thomas Tank Engine ride. He loved it, but it was over almost as soon as it had begun. Then we were off to Manor to find a Brio Thomas the Tank Engine and that was 11.90 CHF well spent!

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

To do the La Plaine to Russin walk: At La Plaine station, follow the road eastward towards the village. You’ll go past the bakery/cafe. Take the left turning at the junction. The playground is on the left, opposite the school and contains two swings, a springy aparatus (a ladybird) and a pirate’s ship in three parts with prow, mast and the deck. The football court is just next to it. To get back on the walk turn left back onto the road (or if not going to the playground just continue straight ahead). Walk on the pavement on the right.

After the houses is an industrial site on both sides of the road. Then the pavement ends just after the road bends to the left and you’ll need to be on the road for two or three metres so check that no traffic is coming first. Immediately before the bridge is a path to the right, which you go down. As you come towards the river take the path that branches off and up towards the left. This takes you across the Allondon river and under the railway. At the far end take the steps up (about 10, slightly uneven and with a bicycle wheel chute) and turn right. Follow the path round (don’t take the single step to the right) and eventually the lakes will open up on the left behind a hedge. Keep going along here to come to the first hide, on your left.

Leaving the hide, turn left out of it, then the path soon bends round to the left. Straight along here, the next 2 hides are on your left. Keep along the path to eventually come to the left turn, then follow this up (ignoring a turn to the right, although if you want to go straight to Russin and miss the fourth hide, turn right here), until you reach the end and the fourth hide is on your left. To get to Russin station from here retrace your steps until you reach the path (now on the left) that you ignored on the way up. Take it for a few hundred metres until you reach a road where you turn sharp left. Russin station is now in view and you can keep going on this road until you reach it. If going for a particular train, get there at least 5 minutes before departure time, to get safely across before the barriers come down.

Russin station

Russin station

If you came to La Plaine by car you can either retrace your steps at any point, or take a train back to La Plaine from Russin.

Birding exchange

Today we went down to the Pro Natura nature reserve at Point de la Bise. It’s about 4 miles from us but still within the canton of Geneva, on the lake. La Bise is the name of one of the local winds, so La Bise is a place where you can go and experience it! The reserve opens at 10 and we were there about 9:30am so we had time to mess about in the neighbouring campsite. Mtoto made good use of the small playground and we also went for a walk around the site, particularly to reach the lake. Mtoto wanted to throw stones in the lake but, unfortunately, some ducks decided that people throwing things in the water were probably throwing food so came to investigate. So no stone throwing any more Mtoto!

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

We enjoyed seeing herons in trees and one that flew off and landed on a caravan. Mtoto and L saw a kingfisher at the campsite when they were there on a walk last week, but we didn’t see it today. It was probably next door in the nature reserve until we got there. We have plans to use the campsite for Mtoto’s first outdoor camping adventure later this year, as it is close to home but is a beautiful setting.

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

After the nature reserve opened we went straight to Mtoto’s favourite feature, the tree house, which is really a hide. But what a hide! It’s got two storeys. On the first level all the windows are permanently open. On the second floor there’s a child gate and there are openings at adult level and at toddler level. It’s simply a brilliant idea and is the only hide that I’ve come across so far that has been designed with toddlers in mind as well as adults or older children.

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

While we were in the hide there was a chap, B, there with a telescope. I asked what he had been looking at and he said there was possibly an unusual gull because of its tail markings and beak. From there we got talking and he recommended another place to go looking at birds on the lake and a website to check out which birds have been recorded where. The birding exchange site, ornitho.ch, allows registered users to record what birds they’ve seen, how many, and where they’ve seen them. It looks like a great resource for Mtoto and me as we’ll be able to see what birds we might expect to see in a place, rather than just knowing what sort of things might be seen in a given season.

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

This afternoon we were back on Baby Plage and while Mtoto and L played transport games in the sand, I was off getting in some practice at counting birds so I can contribute to Ornitho! I have made my first entry and even this was a learning experience. I entered my sighting of a Pied Wagtail, only to discover that this would be reported to the “Swiss Rarities Committee”. I deleted my entry and revisited my bird book. There, I learned that the Pied Wagtail shares an entry with the White Wagtail. And it is the latter that I have been seeing around Geneva, including today. As they say, every day’s a school day!

Janathon: Another resting day, with a cold hour-long walk in Mtoto’s quiet time.

I spy

“I spy, with my little eye, something coloured white!”

Mtoto takes a strong interest in everything. What’s going on around him, how things work and what things are, are all of interest. Since he hadn’t learned letters and spelling yet, but does know colours, we have adapted the old children’s game of I Spy.

Traditionally, the person calling out the start chooses something that they can see and calls out what letter it begins with, such as “I spy with with my little eye, something beginning with C”. Then the other players have to guess the object. The first person to guess the object starts off the next round by choosing something that they can see.

In our version, the person calling out the start chooses something they can see and calls out the colour, such as “I spy with my little eye, something coloured red”. The other players get to make one call each, so L might say “rug” and I say “boots”. Then Mtoto can call out something. If what he’s seen has already been called out, he can look for something else that is the same colour and call it. Then we go round the group taking it in turns to call things out until we run out of things to say. Playing like this, we can teach Mtoto new words if we see something that he might not have known. We’re also re-affirming things that he does know and praising him for all the different connections he can make between things and their colours.

Like the original I Spy game it can be played anywhere and with any number of people. We often play while travelling or if we want to keep Mtoto’s attention somewhere, such as at a dining table, when he might otherwise want to drag us off to play before we’ve finished eating – the day L invented it, we were in a long queue in an administrative building in Geneva and needed Mtoto to stay with us. It also helps Mtoto to engage with, and learn about, his surroundings.

 

 

Geneva’s best sandpit

Today Mtoto and I had a brilliant play at Geneva’s best sandpit. And no, we weren’t in Park de la Grange, Parc Bertrand or any of the other fine parks that offers sand play. We were at Baby Plage.

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Baby Plage is so called because it is a beach reserved for babies and children and their families and it has been so since 2007. It is a free beach and the amenities, or lack of them, reflect this. But, in theory at least, it is a place where families can go to hang out and enjoy being lakeside for a while. There are places that do the whole beaches experience better, like Geneve Plage and Bains de Paquis. At Geneve Plage you get changing rooms, water slides and eateries, life guards and a secure compound for your money. At Bains de Paquis you only pay two Francs at the height of summer (or you can buy a membership) and at this community-run venue you get a simple beach (stony rather than sandy), good-value food, changing rooms and life guards. At Baby Plage you get a sandy beach and some play equipment in the trees. That’s really it, there aren’t even accessible toilets (the only ones are just outside the grounds and are underground, accessible only by steep steps).

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Despite its limited attractions Baby Plage is still where it is at for us, a Dad and a toddler. Take today, for example. It was pouring with rain. So much so, that I was willing to go home if Mtoto didn’t want to get out of the buggy. But get out he did and he got on with playing with some gusto. We started with the sand cups (two cheap Migros-bought plastic cups that are easily packed into any day out). I built the sandcastles and Mtoto kicked them over. But he also got into building them, which is something that he has only recently shown interest in doing. Then we got the ball out and we kicked it around the beach. The only rules are that he’s not allowed to go past the fences (including one near the water) and he’s not allowed to kick the ball in the water. Then Mtoto got into kicking the ball into the sandcastles.

Eventually, tiring of the ball and the sandcastles, Mtoto got back into travel play. A train, a bus, a crane and a ticket office later, we had a lovely game going, where Mtoto would buy tickets from me and then go on journeys. There were less materials to choose tickets from than at the park, so Mtoto had to make do with leaves or sticks until I found a bit of bark with lichen on it. Mtoto liked it so much that at the end of the game he put the lichen bark in the buggy to take home.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The play equipment in the trees that I referred to earlier are an interesting project, which I hope Mtoto will enjoy when he’s older. They’re made from recycled materials such as old bicycle tires and were first set up by a local resident, Jean Georges Ernst, and are now being managed by a local association that looks after the condition of the beach. Their website makes for some slightly hilarious (if you don’t use the equipment) reading. As well as stating that the equipment doesn’t reach European standards for outdoor play equipment, they state that on questions concerning the safety of the equipment:

“If your question concerns the reliability of materials and method of assembly we can not give you an absolute guarantee, but we can reassure you by saying no accidents due to the technique has happened to Baby Beach so far. By cons, if you mean the risk to users, in theory, they are innumerable.”

What they’re basically saying is that no one that they know of has had an accident so far, but they rely on people to use their common sense. And the best people who make use of their common sense are children, they say.

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

Mtoto didn’t want to leave but I was getting cold. I didn’t have the advantage of the all-in-one winter suit that he has. As we reached the exit, Mtoto spotted some puddles and launched right in. I’ve learned quickly enough that as long as Mtoto isn’t falling over or worse, he can do what he likes in the puddles. So he splashed and he ran and he got me involved, demanding a stand over the puddles with legs apart so he could go under my bridge, as he puts it. Such joy!

By the time we left, the rain had eased off, but it was time for lunch anyway, so off we went.

2015 birds

At Baby Plage we saw the usual Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Coots, Mallard Ducks (including two males in a vicious fight where they appeared to be trying to drown each other), House Sparrows, Red-crested Pochards, Walking along the lakeside, we also saw two moorhens, who are much less common on the lake at the moment.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.

Janathon

A quick walk to get Mtoto off to sleep in the rain this afternoon, 1km in around 12 minutes. I did my core stretches in Mtoto’s bedroom today. While doing a 1-minute plank Mtoto decided to climb on me. It was funny, but meant that I was carrying his weight as well as my own. Eventually I collapsed on the floor laughing, with Mtoto laughing too and asking his catchphrase question “what happened?”

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

Geneva Castle

We arrived early at Geneva Castle, around 1320. The year, not the time of day. It is an imposing structure. At each corner a round tower, though only three are fully constructed, and at the front an imposing gate. People could walk along the ramparts between the towers. Those standing guard had fine views towards Lake Geneva, across to the mountains and over the plains. The castle was built on a marshland, so had waters all around it, but with secure paths for entry and two fine moats. We imagined it bustling with activity and life. And just then, we heard a bugle and the gates began to open. We were being beckoned in. Mtoto climbed out of the buggy and onto my shoulders. We two travellers strode into the castle.

Inside, we were greeted by Hugues Dauphin, sire de Faucigny, and his servants. They took our horses and while Hugues Dauphin gave us a guided tour of his domain. As well as the grand walls, there was a house-like structure in the centre, stables and chickens ran freely around our feet. We wandered over to the walls, climbed up and enjoyed the splendid view, squinting in the bright sunshine, but still able to enjoy the sight of the mountains and the unspoilt plains. This will forever be how I will remember Geneva Castle.

No entry

No entry

The trudging reality was rather different. I took a wrong turning on our walk down the hill and to avoid a busier road we had to take paths right round the outside of the castle before we could get quietly to the front. And even then, one of the paths we took, was being used by several cars as a shortcut in their journeys, meaning extra time stood on the muddy banks waiting for them to pass. A couple passed with a big dog, which stuck its nose into the bottom of the buggy and came out with a biscuit and then spat it out. Both Mtoto and I regretted first that we had not realised that the biscuit was there and second that it was now inedible.

We passed a small playground outside a restaurant at the Rouelbeau sports centre, but it looked too challenging for Mtoto. The only point of relief was a pleasant wood carving of lots of local animals such as wild boar, a hare and various birds. It was early, still not 9am, and the light was poor. Much greyer than I was expecting. We spotted the beavers’ dam, but didn’t spot any beavers. If they had any sense they were inside somewhere, trying to keep warm.

The castle is a desperate ruin, falling into deep decay over several centuries but is listed as a site of historical national importance. According to various Geneva authority webpages there have systematic archaeological digs and several years ago there were plans for an educational trail and walk, but there was nothing like that that we could see.

Rouelbeau Castle

Mud

 

However, I came over all Tony Robinson and got into the swing of things telling the story of the castle to Mtoto and imagining that we were there when it was at its best. Sadly, Mtoto didn’t get the vision, not like the sandpit of yesterday. We went up the thick mud slope into the castle keep, or what was left of it. Not enough to satisfy Mtoto though. “I want to go in the castle” he kept crying, “over there”. Over there was beyond a long fence with big warning signs telling us that we weren’t allowed to enter. A lone workman was on site too, forlornly battling with the wind, trying to tie down plastic sheeting that covers the last remaining stone walls and that had come undone and been torn. “We are in the castle” I repeatedly said, but Mtoto wasn’t having it. I wouldn’t let him throw stones in the moat, which annoyed him further and his complaining largely drowned out the sound of the woodpeckers drilling in the trees above our heads. He did at least stop to listen to them for a few seconds.

We probably saw around a dozen Greater Spotted Woodpeckers at the castle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place. We also saw Mallard ducks and a Kestrel, as well as a Coot in the lagoon opposite. Our plan was to move onto the Sionnet marsh and spend some time looking for birds, splashing in puddles and throwing stones in the water but just then a bright light in the distance caught my eye. I looked up and saw the ominous dark clouds above our heads and realised that the wind had picked up. Then came the first rumble of thunder.

We headed for the village of Meinier via Essert, a pretty hamlet. We saw some decaying 1980s cars, plus a very old tractor with a smiley face. There were also a haggle of chickens and Mtoto took delight in telling me the colours of their heads (red) and legs (yellow), as well as their bodies (white), when I asked him what colour they were. Heading out of Essert, we also saw a buzzard and then that was it before the rain came. And when it came, it was hellish. Hail and rain. Hard and intense. Thankfully we weren’t far from Meinier and miraculously we saw a bus, though my face fell when I realised that it was sans voyageurs. But my spirit was quickly raised by ducking into the Pommier Garni cafe, where Mtoto and I enjoyed an apple muffin and a hot apple juices, before catching the next bus back into town. We even had time for an hour in the ludotheque before lunch.

Grey clouds over Geneva

Grey clouds over Geneva

 

Note: The castle is really called Rouelbeau Castle, but since it is in the Canton of Geneva I took the liberty of calling it Geneva Castle so that Mtoto might enjoy it more. As it was, on the bus ride home we passed a house that had been built to look a bit like a castle. “There’s a castle, Pappa”, said Mtoto. “A real castle. I want to go in it. In the real castle.”

Janathon

Apart from the rain, around 2-3 miles walk, over an hour and a half.

2015 birds

As well as the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Buzzard, Kestrel, Coot and Mallards, we also saw a couple of Grey Herons, a Wren, Great Tits, Robins, Blue Tits, Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows, Blackbirds and one new bird for the year, a Collared Dove. We saw one bird that I couldn’t identify in flight, but in the low light my photo was completely inconclusive.

IMG_8432

Sans voyageurs

 

The postman cometh after the rain

The postman cometh after the rain

 

 

 

All you need is a sandpit

We played a fabulous game today, Mtoto and me. All we needed was a sandpit and our imagination.

Following on from yesterday’s good day, this was another one. Different, but special too. We were up early doors and we played garage and telescopes (poster tubes) until it was time to go out for our playdate. Contrary to the impression I’ve given so far, this was set up with a female friend and her son. She had invited along another female friend with another son. The three boys have about 6 months between them and will be in the same school year. They played well together and at times, I dare say, they really played together rather than just along side each other, as Mtoto tends to do at present. We stayed there for about 3 hours, including lunch together and lots of Duplo train set, cars, books and the like.

The park we found the sandpit in, Place de jeux du parc des Franchises, was a new one on us. We found little for toddlers, just some swings and a sandpit, but boy, what a sandpit. It’s big, with two tables in and it merges with the grass banks. As there was just Mtoto and me, it was a lot of space to play in.

We started as we often do, playing with our sand cups and making mini-castles. We both built them, but Mtoto enjoys knocking them down more. Eventually he tired of this game and asked me to build a boat. I suggested a train instead and he agreed. After marking out an engine and two cars, we were away. To the casual observer, our train looks nothing like a train but with a little imagination you can see the edges, the seats and the funnel. Instead of the usual steering wheel that we use for a boat we had levers. We went on several journeys and then Mtoto asked for a bus. In the summer we mostly made boats, plus the occasional plane or car but this project grew and grew.

The sand bus from the rear.

The sand bus from the rear.

Within about three quarters of an hour as well as the train we had a bus, a helicopter, a Mouette (a Genevois public transport boat), a helicopter and a postman’s bike with post-filled trailer. We also had two ticket offices and a post office. Mtoto went to buy tickets and I was the ticket vendor, selling tickets (leaves, sticks and pine cones) that Mtoto asked for. As well as tickets for Geneva, London and Annecy, he also bought yes/no tickets, yes/yes tickets and a travel pass. At the post office he bought stamps. I was the vendor there too. At the post office he picked up a ticket (number 8), so he could be called to the kiosk when it was his turn. Thankfully I was serving customer number 6 when he arrived, so he didn’t have long to wait.

The imagination play was brilliant. Mtoto also drove most of the vehicles that he had tickets for and the journey only took a few seconds. I sat where requested, which included next to him, in another car, or at his favourite bus seat, across from the driver at the front. I also had the honour or driving the bus (the number 8 again) and the train. We were in the park for almost 2 hours before I called on Quiet Time and despite mild initial protests he was asleep in just a few minutes, no doubt dreaming of public transport adventures.

 

Janathon

I walked to the playdate and back again, enjoying it without logging time or distance. It was at least 4 miles for the round trip, probably a bit longer.

2015 birds

I saw another wren today, this time in Parc des Delices, plus plenty of cormorants, swans, goosander, coots and pochard down by the lake but nothing new.

Observations

We found a painful bus stop in Geneva today.

Les Ouches

Les Ouches

On the way home I stopped off at Rue de St-Jean to take in the views. The apartments there are built on a hill and offer super views over Geneva.

Looking to the Alps from St Jean, over Geneva.

Looking to the Alps from St Jean, over Geneva.

View from Geneva looking out along the Rhone towards the confluence with the Arve.

View from Geneva looking out along the Rhone towards the confluence with the Arve.

 

 

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