Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine

 This week, write about whatever topic you’d like, but go for laughs.

Swiss Alps seen from Feldbrunnen

I grew up in a concrete jungle. There were no big risks to take, just do not speak to strange men (said my mum) and be careful when crossing the road. Armed with these wise sayings for my future life I took further steps out of the security of London’s East End where Jack the Ripper slashed a few women in the nineteenth century and it was even dangerous to board a red double-decker bus, because it might start moving. Actually it did once; unfortunately it was in my teenager years where you dress with the latest fashion, meaning I was wearing one of those very tight short skirts. Usually you just gave a clever hop onto the bus and succeeded in landing gracefully with both feet on the platform. This was one of the exceptions, one foot on the bus and the other sort of hanging in the air. It was one of the first times I was happy to be caught in a London traffic jam. It gave me the chance to ensure that my hanging foot met the other and I survived. Naturally I did not tell mum about this escapade. She would have worried unnecessarily.

Eventually as life takes its path, I left the concrete and dangers of the big city and emigrated to Switzerland. It was another big city, Zürich, but the only dangers I encountered in Zürich was not speaking the language very well, and being misunderstood.

I left Zürich for the Swiss countryside, I married Mr. Swiss and four children later we were one big happy family. It seems that Swiss people sort of grow up physically able and agile and know no dangers. Everything is possible, climbing a mountain, swimming a river and wandering over stick and stone. You name it, it is a country of survivors and they can do it. Mr. Swiss, being a 100% Swiss, was sure that this applied all over the world, even to his British born wife, whose only training had been to board English busses and know the ins and outs of the London Underground system (subway for friends living on the other side of the pond).

So life went on in Switzerland and we became a typical Swiss family, so thought Mr. Swiss and the kids. Like all typical families, we decided to take a vacation once a year. The vacation was in Switzerland as we did not have the funds to travel further. The first couple of years were fine, we went to the Italian part of Switzerland, almost semi tropical, days of sunbathing and swimming and eating spaghetti and sipping vino.

This seemed to be monotonous for the Swiss half of the family so we he decided further holidays would be spent in the Swiss mountains, mainly Bernese Overland. I did not mind as I knew the sun shone up in higher places, quite intense, and my suntan would be certain. A deeper brown than ever, so I thought. To obtain this sun tan you had to go on a walking holiday. Usually we booked a chalet near the alps. There were yellow signposts everywhere mostly pointing upwards, showing this was a foot path. We departed in the morning, dressed in shorts, t-shirts (I always wore a t-shirt with spaghetti type straps – to get a nice even tan) and solid leather Swiss walking shoes with nice think socks. Of course, this was new to me. We English people always seem to preserve a sign of fashion and looking good at the worse time, but this was Switzerland. Mr. Swiss told me you need these shoes and everyone wears them in the mountains. In the mountains? I thought we were going for a walk and not a survival course. However, not wanting to look silly (which I was convinced I did) I said no more.We had a rucksack packed with food and drink, what could possibly go wrong.

Unfortunately I was not one of those Amazon type mountain ladies that grew up in Switzerland. I was under the impression that any fool could walk. I should have got suspicious when the word “mountains” was mentioned.

We began to walk/hike/tramp/crawl/climb. Everything went up. It was when the nice friendly yellow signposts change to red and white I got a little doubtful.

“Why are those signs different?” I asked Mr. Swiss

“They are mountain paths, not walking paths” was the answer.

After an hour walking on these mountain paths, my legs aching and having to stop now and again whilst my sons and Mr. Swiss only stopped for a useful tree, I had doubts.

“We can take a break and have something to eat” said Mr. Swiss

I was thankful, grateful, and so we sat. I was tempted to ask where, but I was told there are enough stones lying around. After half an hour sitting on a stone I decided I would have to stand up to relieve the pain and cramp in my most honourable tender part.

“Look at the view” said my offspring. How lovely that they treasured the wonders of nature. I looked at the view, felt a little unsure with so much distance between me and the flat lands (actually there are no flat lands in the Bernese Overland) and photos were taken. I took no photos, I was still thinking about going back where I came from, but all things that go up must go down luckily. How they go down is something entirely different.

I discovered something. Although I was able to walk upwards, walking down was a problem. Going up you can always grip something with your super profiled Swiss walking boots, but going down it seems you just let yourself go. My sons and Mr. Swiss were quite good at that, but Mrs. London town bus hopper was not. I was sure I would fall, trip, break a leg or something worse. Visions of mountain rescue teams fixing me on a rope and hauling me into a helicopter came to my mind. We English are, however, inventors. We always find a way to safety and I did. Luckily the mountain slope where we were beginning the decent was isolated. There were no other mountaineers to watch as Mrs. Angloswiss sat on the most tender part of her non-Amazon body and sort of slid carefully down the slope, now and again stopping to regain her breath and even ensure that the lower flatter land was coming closer.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we returned to the normal flatter territory and to celebrate we visited a restaurant for a drink (a rest and a gathering of my senses and wits). Oh how lovely to spend a holiday in the Swiss mountains, the envy of all. Little did I know that this was just our first holiday in the Swiss mountains. Swiss family Sherpa decided it was the beginning of the best holidays we ever had. I now know all the slopes. Eiger, Jungfrau, Engstligen Alp, Adelboden, Grindelwald, you name it, I have been there and am alive to write about it. The main thing was I was nice and brown when I returned home to tell everyone about it.

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine

Daily Prompt: Barter System

If the world worked on a barter system, how would you fare? Would you have services to barter? Would you be successful, or would you struggle?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us SKILL.

Market scene in the souks

There are some countries that work on a barter system. Remembering my week’s stay in Marrakesh, Morocco it was a real eye opener. You could buy everything in the souks/market in that town, but there were no prices shown. Mr. Swiss decided to buy a carpet: one of those hand woven Bedouin carpets that are used probably for a sleeping camel to lay on. The carpet looked very nice (we still have it somewhere in the cellar) and so we decided, yes that’s the thing, not heavy and rolled up it would be easy to get through customs. It was then the problems began.

“How much” we asked (Mr. Swiss asked, his French was better than mine).

A price was said by the salesman and so we said yes.

Oh, the disappointment in the eyes of the Moroccan seller. You do not say “yes” you discuss. One of our colleagues informed our mistake and so we continued. Success, after a half hour bartering discussion we paid half of the price. We were proud, although this is all calculated in advance probably. We then searched our strange Moroccan money together to see if it would cover the carpet.

“Non, non pas necessaire” was the answer or something like that – my French is not exactly Charles de Gaulle similar.

And the man led us with pride to his credit card machine, where we comfortably paid with Visa card. They seemed to be prepared for everything in a town in the middle of the Moroccan desert, near the foot of the Atlas Mountains. We were probably just stupid foreigners.

I learnt my lesson; barter was not my thing. There was a bloke that offered Mr. Swiss a camel (for me?), but I think Mr. Swiss decided there would be complications at customs when flying back and after all a camel could not wash, iron or cook. It would also look strange riding a camel to the shops in Switzerland, so we left the camel in his acquainted surroundings.

Bartering is psychological warfare. I just could not imagine bartering for meat or vegetable in the local supermarket. Female voices rising to a crescendo saying no, a pork chop for three Swiss Francs far too expensive, after all is not very lean, a thick edge of fat, and I would not give it to my cat to eat, or something like that. Just next door an enraged lady would throw a cauliflower at the salesman, finding a caterpillar feeding on the stalk. No, she definitely would not pay two Swiss francs for that leguminous failure, although perhaps if he would reduce the price by a franc (the value of a caterpillar?) she might think about it.

Let us go to the electronic department where a customer is unscrewing a vacuum cleaner to see if it was really worth the money he should pay for it: it seems you do look a gift horse in the mouth in the bartering world.

How can you barter for milk or other dairy products in Switzerland. This would never work, the Swiss keep a nice safe control on cow produce. You think the cow is only holy in India? Milk has a fixed price in Switzerland and I am sure the Helvetic government would not be happy about a bartering system.

Just think of all the time necessary for these bartering actions. Mrs. Swiss goes shopping and returns home in the evening, after eight hours of concentrated arguing and discussions, pleased with the result of her dealings.

I am also sure that exchange would not bring anything. No-one has ever bought a story from me, I even published my book of short stories by self-publishing. What else could I exchange? Me and Mr. Swiss are now antiques, not the unique valuable antiques, but the antiques that you find with disappointment are no longer required. I am sure my value would now just be a donkey and not a camel.

Exchange perhaps my felines for something. “Forget it” they say, “We remain, perhaps we could exchange Mr. and Mrs. Human for a few tins of tuna, but that won’t work, we cannot use the tin opener with our paws”.

Bartering is something you have to grow up with, a way of life. In a country where everyone keeps an eye on what you are doing, when you are doing it, and where you make sure that the no-one knows that you are doing it, things get complicated. There was a bloke in the news lately that decided to barter a few secrets in another country for permission to stay in that country. He decided against staying and is still searching for a country, but perhaps he now has a problem as there are no secrets left.

By the way the bit about the camel was invented by me – or was it?