The Best Days of Their Lives

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

Page 2 of 6

Geneva on ice

Today, for the first time, I saw a private ice rink in someone’s garden. I know that Geneva loves ice, but I didn’t realise that people had their own ice rinks. It makes sense, I suppose. If you love ice skating and you’ve got the space, why not have an ice rink? It was in Chemin de Beraille, a rather well-to-do address in Villette, on the outskirts of Geneva.

It was a good time to see that ice rink, since yesterday I got on the ice myself for the first time. The City of Geneva operates several ice rinks and for the princely sum of 2 Swiss Francs you can hire skates and get on the ice. You can’t go wrong for just two Swiss Francs.

Except, of course, that not only could I go wrong but I could also go quite spectacularly wrong. So wrong that the last time I fell over, other people on the ice said that they felt the reverberations of thudding onto the ice. The chaps in the rink office wondered if I had concussion. I didn’t, I only hit my knee on the ground, in a rather dramatic falling forward as I tried to reach the expected safety of the fence.

Trying to make it look like I was moving

Trying to make it look like I was moving

Other than having a sore knee and a skin burn today, I’m doing pretty well. Well enough that having watched some videos about ice skating basics, I’m looking forward to my next trip onto the ice rink. The rinks will only be about until the end of February, so I’ve not got long to get practising.

Getting out on the rinks is one of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I went ice skating once or twice as a child. I wasn’t confident and I didn’t learn anything or get the hang of it, so had we stayed in the UK it was something I was unlikely to try. But being in Switzerland and having a child, are two good reasons to try and skate.

Yesterday, as well as my own ice skating travails, L and Mtoto also got on the ice. While I was wearing the biggest shoe they had on offer, Mtoto had a skate with two blades on each foot, which strapped around the shoes he was already wearing. He was also the right size to take advantage of the learning frames that are on hand for children. With some help from L he happily got on the ice. He fell over several times, but never like his Pappa, thankfully.

If you fancy having a go yourself, there are rinks at Bastions and Charmille as well as at Meyrin, Sous-Moulin and Carouge. After learning how to skate myself, my next ice-related adventure must be going to see the Servette ice hockey team in action.

The great Geneva fire engines

If you have children who love fire engines, then Geneva has a treat in store for you!

Old fire engine #1

Old fire engine #1

Not only is there a fire engine museum in Geneva, there’s also a fabulous fire engine climbing frame in the Ecole de Mail, around the back of the large fire station. We visited both today, as well as having a look through the gates of the working fire station. There’s so much to see!

The unassuming museum

The unassuming museum

The fire engine museum is in an unassuming building at 1 bis, Rue du Stand. It’s fairly central, less than 10 minutes walk along the Rhone river from Bel Air (or for us, a Janathon walk of half an hour from home) and there are plenty of bus and tram stops closer by. Set over 3 floors, it hosts a couple of large engines and a smaller 4×4 at the front, as well as a handful of smaller vehicles at the back. Upstairs are the horse-drawn fire engine carriages, buckets, uniforms, extinguishers and that sort of thing.

Old fire engine #2

Old fire engine #2

Mtoto had been looking forward to going to the fire engine museum as soon as he heard about it. Although we were both feeling ill and I was planning to have a day in, we went anyway, such was his enthusiasm. Sadly, it all dissipated just a few minutes after we got there. The concept was good and I’m sure the delivery will work for kids who are older than Mtoto.

The slightly intimidating staircase

The slightly intimidating staircase

The drawbacks are simply:

1. You can’t go in the fire engines.

2. There’s no obvious logic to what is placed where.

3. There’s no reception or obvious starting point.

4. There’s no trail, information pack or anything like that.

5. I don’t know who the staff are as no one introduced themselves.

6. To get from the ground floor to the first floor you have to go up a wooden staircase of about 20 steps. While it feels solid, it is hard work with a toddler.

7. There’s no shop or stall selling fire engine toys.

8. The entrance is through a curtain of blankets. Pushing the buggy through first, I almost smashed Mtoto into the bumper of the first fire engine that is parked dangerously close to the entrance and there’s no warning about it.

There's only a few inches from the blanket to the truck, so watch out when you come in!

There’s only a few inches from the blanket to the truck, so watch out when you come in!

If I was on my own, I would have loved this museum. There are enough artifacts with information signs that I could have ambled around the museum for an hour or more. I loved details like the fire hydrants holding up the rope around the vehicles. What is a drawback when I’m with a child is a quirk when I’m on my own.

Fire truck with snow plow!

Fire truck with snow plow!

After the museum, Mtoto was desperate to get to the fire engine playground and we couldn’t get there fast enough. We did stop off though to look through the gate into the modern fire station at Rue du Vieux-Billard where we saw a fire vehicle with a snow plow on.

Fire engine playground

Fire engine playground

The fire engine playground is in the Ecole de Mail off Rue Gourgas and is opposite a larger playground in Parc Gourgas. It is about 10 minutes walk from the museum. The fire engine was installed in 1999 to celebrate 100 years of the fire service in Geneva. It’s a pretty good space. Mtoto needed a bit of help to get into the cab and to get around a couple of ladders, but otherwise he was fairly capable and enjoyed himself a lot. We stayed for around half an hour, which was pretty good going, considering that there is only one attraction in the playground. We didn’t visit Parc Gourgas this time, so we’ll have to tell you about it another time. Next week, maybe.

The fire engine from the rear

The fire engine from the rear

The fire engine museum is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays 10h-12h and 13h30-15h30, closed at lunchtime and closed in July and August, as well as on public holidays. The fire engine playground is in a school so the best time to visit is on Wednesdays, the weekend, or in school holidays and is probably worth combining the visit.

If you want to learn more about Geneva’s firefighters today, check out their municipal webpage, which includes links to photos of their recent work.

Ecole de Mail playground

Ecole de Mail playground


Blame the patriarchy

It turns out that the trouble Mtoto and I have making friends and meeting up with women, who are the vast majority of people looking after children in this city, is all down to other men.

A friend got in touch. She and her husband read my “Man Friends” post the other week. I paraphrase. He said: “Typical of women isn’t it?” She said: “Hang on, don’t blame the women.”

She and I bumped into each other today and while we walked (that’s my Janathon exercise for today, folks) our kids to sleep we talked. And she told me that this business of women not wanting to meet up with stay-at-home Dads might be because of the husbands (read partners etc). It’s just a theory she said. But what are the wives going to be telling the husbands about their day? That they were meeting up with some chap? The husbands are going to be getting jealous about who exactly these chaps are that their wives are hanging out with. So it isn’t worth the hassle for these women. Much easier to simply hang out with other women.

I conceded a point. Both she and another friend who I had been meeting with today know me and my whole family. They’ve met L, they’ve met me. They’ve met Mtoto. They’ve seen me with their wives and their kids and they’ve seen me with L and Mtoto. I’ve been for beers and football with one of the husbands. Maybe when other men don’t perceive me as a threat to their relationships, it can all work out. Other women who I’ve hung out with for an hour or two, I met at a French class. We’re fellow students, it’s okay.

Assuming that my friend is right, I took it on in a different way. The problem isn’t me, it’s what I represent and how that might make people question themselves and how they’re living.

I’m a guy and who has chosen to spend every waking hour with my kid. After all, I encouraged L to apply for the job that she got, knowing that it would force all kinds of change upon our family. I’m having lots of fun. You might see it as a career break. I see this as an opportunity to explore all kinds of different paths that I might take in life. Are other Dads spending enough time with their kids? Have they got the right balance of time with their families? Is it okay to admit that they would rather not spend time with their kids?

I met a guy recently who works in commodities. He asked me what I did. He told me that although he doesn’t have any kids, my job is his second favourite choice of everything, coming only after being retired. He doesn’t have any kids yet, so he hasn’t had to make the hard choices about pursuing that dream. But other men have and hearing about a stay-at-home Dad can make other men uncomfortable about the choices they’ve made.

And all of that is why lots of women are uncomfortable around a stay-at-home Dad.

Snow running

It started snowing around 1pm. Beautiful swirling flakes falling from the sky. By 6:40pm when I needed to leave for my evening run, it was still snowing. Beautiful, if a little slippy in places. When the Geneva Runners left the Bains de Paquis around half an hour later, there were only 9 of us. It was worse last week, they said, when the wind was biting. Apart from the hum of the slow traffic and the bright red of brake lights, it was peaceful running in the snow. I even stopped to take some photos, though none came out well.

I was the last of the group, and fell further behind as I gingerly made my way up Imperatrice hill, only to find that two runners had kindly waited for me. We ran some of the way from then on together. My favourite part of the whole run came when I took a path alongside a field and ran in crisp and otherwise untouched snow, while my companions ran above me along the road. It could have gone on forever, but it was only 200 yards or so.

Later, we had burgers in the Clubhouse. I had the California, my concession to healthy eating because it has some avocado in it, while piling my plate up with ketchup and brown sauce. The contradictions lay next to each other on my plate and merged in my belly. Helped down by a pint of beer. In 90 days time, I will hopefully be relaxing having finished my first marathon earlier in the day. Maybe I’ll see if I can have the California again. But with a bigger plate of chips.

Tonight, was a good marathon training night.

Janathon: back on the garmin/strava stats tonight. 6.11 miles in 1:02:09 at 10:11 a mile.

2015 birds: today I saw a Sparrowhawk for the first time in 2015, on a cycle route round the edge of the ZIMEYSA industrial estate up at Meyrin. We also saw Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, a Green Woodpecker, Carrion Crows, Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and Greenfinches. As usual on the lake we saw Coots, Mallards, Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes, Mute Swans, Black-headed Gulls and Great Crested Grebes.

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!



How Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari inspired Mtoto

There’s yet more fun with Mtoto this week as a book he got for Christmas has fired his imagination.

Axel Scheffler is best known for his illustrations of Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo and some of her other stories. Some of his other work is rather fun, especially Flip Flap Safari, which is a book of two halves. Each double spread has a a poem on the left top and another on the left bottom, both relating to the animal drawn on the right. But each page is split, with its name down the side. So, for example you can look at a lion or a flamingo, but if you turn the pages right, you can end up with a Limingo with a Lion’s head and top body and a Flamingo’s legs. Or you might have a Zebra’s head and an Elephant’s legs to make a Zebphant. Got that?

Axel Scheffler's Flip Flap Safari by Nosy Crow

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari by Nosy Crow

Mtoto has taken this wonderful game out of the book and into his imagination. Although he’s not using names for things, he goes around saying things like “Pappa’s head and the sofa’s legs” or “the lampshade’s head and the bin’s bottom”. Each version is followed by a little chuckle. We’ve caught on and are once again affirming his choices as well as coming up with our own versions, helping to stretch his imagination and explore what might be possible.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari is also available as an app, apparently.

I’ll confess that I didn’t think much of this book when I first saw it. I figured that it was just some company cashing in on Axel Scheffler’s name to make some quick cash. But after the fun Mtoto has been having with it, I’m all in favour!

(Janathon exercise: a mile walk today in the snow to get Mtoto off to sleep. 2015: Red-crested Pochards, Mute Swans, Black-headed Gulls, Mallards, Goosander and a Coot down at Baby Plage.)

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.


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


It started snowing last night. When we woke up in the morning it was snowing (still?). But all the views from our apartment suggested that it hadn’t settled. There was hardly any on the ground and car tops were hardly covered. Oh well, we thought, maybe next time. We had a slow morning doing laundry and playing. Eventually I took Mtoto out and boom!

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park


There was a lot of snow in the park. Okay, not lots, but enough to have a good time. Mtoto and I went to the tunnel slide playground in Park de la Grange and built two snowmen. Luckily we had a spare carrot in the buggy so we could give them both carrot noses. Then disaster struck. One of the snowmen fell off the slide that we had built them on and fell face first into the puddle at the bottom of the slide. I rescued the snowman and then moved the other one so we could take photos of them and so they wouldn’t suffer more slide disasters.

Snowman #1

Snowman #1

Afterwards, I took Mtoto on a Quiet Time walk and I counted the birds at Baby Plage and Eaux Vives marina. For the second day in a row I saw Common Goldeneyes at Baby Plage. I knew what they were yesterday thanks to my Collins Gem Guides to Birds, which my parents gave to me in December 1984. Somehow it has survived with me this long and yesterday was the first day that I had started carrying it around in my pocket.

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

I got a bit carried away with recording the birds that I see and yesterday recorded sightings on the Jet D’eau jetty as well as Eaux Vives marina, the Baby Plage and Parc de la Grange. Today, I was much more restrained, only checking out the birds at Baby Plage and at the marina.

Snowman #2

Snowman #2

I have recorded all of my sightings over the past couple of days on The benefit of using this site is that it keeps a record of all the species that I see, as well as where and I can add photos to my sightings if I wish. At a stroke I’m able to replace the Excel spreadsheet that I was making and my records will be added to the databases that various Swiss ornithological and nature-related organisations are using, as well as ones abroad if I record sightings in other countries. And all this from my striking up a conversation with a birdwatcher in a hide in La Bise on Sunday!

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Janathon: another walking day today, plus plenty of stretching exercises while playing with Mtoto. “Pappa, don’t do your stretches. Play!”

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

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