The Best Days of Their Lives

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

Tag: geneve

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.



Call the midwife!

I’ve just had one of my most enjoyable social hours since becoming a stay-at-home Dad and I may just have discovered how to meet Swiss people. And, it wasn’t even an hour – possibly only about 20 minutes or so.

Partly, I have myself to thank and partly I have a Swiss midwife called Sandrile. For myself, it’s because I’m a fairly social chap – almost always ready to put make myself vulnerable by going into social situations where I don’t know how they’ll turn out.

I had already done it once today. In BM – the magazine of the Bibliotheques Municipales de Geneve – I discovered that today there would a reading hour in the Paquis library for parents with children aged 0 to 2. And it’s in French. So I went along, feeling tired and with a cracking headache. When we got there, we discovered that although the session started at 10, the library wasn’t open until 3. Quite a bit of me wanted to go home at this point. But I stuck around and eventually I saw two women with babies going round the back of the library. I followed them and voila – it turns out that you have to go in the back. We were in. We were a small group, less than 10 parents, carers and staff. The staff read stories in French and explained about registering your child at the library and where to find books in different languages. And, to top off our experience, mtoto was given a pack of 3 books, which are usually given to all children born in Switzerland. The staff made an exception for him. Magnifique! I still had a cracking headache but we had had a good time. We read some great books in French including a lovely one about some animals on a tightrope. We also read a book about Elmer the elephant in the snow. Mtoto made me read it six times before I suggested we try something else.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the library was great practice for the afternoon. After lunch, we went out to the playground, as has recently become our routine. For the first time, we were alone in the Tunnel Slide Playground until a Russian woman and toddler joined us in the sandpit. The boys played together for a few minutes. Or rather, mtoto shared his toys with the Russian toddler who gratefully took mtoto’s and then wouldn’t share his own. As French was his mother’s and my only shared language it was all a bit confusing. Then it began to rain. They left and mtoto and I played football until I decided that rain had stopped play and I got him down so I could walk him into his nap.

I had a sense that something was about to happen and that I needed to be open. But I didn’t know what. So I prayed to be prepared for whatever came my way. I thought it was the Russian woman so I looked out for her again. And then I passed a group of around 8 women with babies, led by one older woman. The second time that I passed them, I heard a noise. I carried on. I heard the noise again. I stopped. Be open I reminded myself. Then I realised that the older woman was calling to me. Her name is Sandrile and she’s a midwife. She and 2 other midwives run a weekly free session for mothers, and why not, for fathers too, she said. They go for a walk every Tuesday in the same park, starting at 2pm. I could join them if I liked. It would have been easy to say no, so I said yes.

I had a lovely chat with Sandrile and then I got into step with a couple of mothers. I got to speak and hear some French and then one mother said “please speak English, it’s good for our babies to hear it”. This is how I can meet Swiss people – I can offer to speak English! I hadn’t realised that English might be a useful commodity.

Again, I didn’t change numbers with anyone. I think that all the other babies are around 18 months or so younger than mtoto, so they wouldn’t be much good for playing together. One of the positive aspects is that it seems to be a local group, which means opportunities to meet local Swiss people and good reason to keep practising my French, though I’m also prepared to speak English to help the Swiss babies!

One of the three midwives leads the group every Tuesday at 2pm from the Rue de Montchoisy gate. I’m sure I’ll be going back!

Geneva’s Jet D’eau and treasures at the end of the rainbow

For many visitors to Geneva, there’s an obligatory photo to pose for, with the famous Jet D’eau fountain in the background. For those who prefer a close up, you can walk up the pontoon, almost to the Jet itself and pose for your pictures there.

Along the way is a sign warning visitors about getting soaked and slipping into the lake and about changing winds that might blow them off the pontoon.

The first time that we came to visit the Jet D’eau I heeded the signs and strayed no further than the signs. But Mamma had other ideas and she happily pushed mtoto in his poussette right up towards the fountain. They got a bit wet but mtoto loved it.

Mtoto loves the Jet D’eau. The Jet D’eau has been central to mtoto’s understanding of Geneva. Mamma’s first ever night away from mtoto was so that she could attend the interview in Geneva for the job that she has now. To encourage her, I taught mtoto the words ‘Jet D’eau’ and he said them to her over the phone that night. When the time came that we knew we were going to move to Geneva, we encouraged mtoto by telling him that we were going to Geneva and that we would live near the Jet D’eau.

Fast forward a few months and our new apartment has a view straight down the road to the Jet D’eau. Almost every day mtoto asks hopefully “can we go and see the Jet D’eau?” Quite often I put him off but at least once a week we go down there.

Today was a good day at the Jet D’eau. The wind was largely taking the falling water away from the pontoon so we could get right past it and out the other side. But it still had some spray drifting back and we got soaked.

And there were two treasures today for going all the way through. The first was the rainbows. We saw them first before we arrived on the pontoon, spreading themselves through the spray. But the best one of all started at our feet, wherever we walked, while we were coming out of the spray.

The second treasure was a sandpiper on the rocks just beyond the Jet D’eau. Just out of range of a decent shot from my camera, I sat down next to mtoto in his poussette and we spent several minutes watching this delightful little bird pecking and interesting things among the rocks.

Then mtoto was ready to move on. Pappa look for a rainbow, he cried. So we went back and this time I dared to keep my camera out.

“Pappa look for a rainbow,” he cried,
We saw it shimmer across the lake,
Flowing from our feet just inches wide,
Then we knew our own treasure we make.