Tag Archives: UK

Article writing

10 Jan

As part of my increasingly desperate attempt to forge a career of some sort in the world of writing, I have started to write articles for my friend’s tea website. I noticed that the blog section of the website hadn’t been updated in a while, so I asked (rather cheekily) if I could write some articles for him. I was delighted that he said yes! After 35 years on this planet, I am finally beginning to understand that the phrase “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” has more than a grain of truth to it.

I never knew that tea was so complicated and how many different types of tea there are. I have had to do quite a bit of research about tea because, apart from liking to drink it by the bucketful, I didn’t know too much about it. There are some very technical aspects to brewing tea, which have been fascinating to learn.

At first I was hoping that I would be able to write about one to two articles per week but work and other commitments very easily get in the way. It’s also easy to make excuses to not write anything. Slowly, I am learning to get into the habit and I am finding that I have more and more ideas about what to write and what people might like to read and learn about tea.

However, I am still writing a bit less than I was hoping to but at least I am writing something. The feedback is that the articles seems to be well received by people on social media and the website, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, here comes the plug. If you are interested in having high quality teas delivered directly to your door, then you should definitely check out Tèaura. First founded in Zürich, Switzerland, all of the teas have been hand-selected from Taiwan, China, Japan and South Africa and can now be shipped worldwide. There is also a UK-based website (www.teaura.co), if you are based outside of Switzerland.

If you look hard enough, you might also find something written by yours truly.


Photo Credit: Jamie McKee @ Tèaura

Christmas traditions

23 Dec

This year I am flying back to the UK for Christmas. I have a feeling I will be missing out on a White Christmas in Switzerland but last year I missed out on a lot of traditions that we have in the UK.

There are quite a lot of differences between UK and Swiss traditions. Firstly, Santa Claus (or Samichlaus) doesn’t come to Switzerland on Christmas Eve. He arrives on 6th December and he doesn’t bring presents. He brings cookies and sweets to children who have been good and behaved themselves. For naughty children, there is a character called Smutzli (literally, “little dirty one”), who is dressed like Samichlaus but in black instead of red. He finds the naughty children and carries them off to the woods and beats them with a stick and they get given a piece of coal instead of sweets. No wonder Swiss children are so well behaved! I don’t think the six-year-old me would have said boo to a goose, if I was threatened with corporal punishment instead of sweet treats.

The Swiss, and most other Europeans, have their presents delivered by Christkind (literally, “Christ child”). He normally arrives so that presents can be opened on 24th December. Why the person who delivers presents is called Christ child is anyone’s guess but it seems to have something to do with the baby Jesus giving the gifts. What I don’t understand is that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, so why is he giving gifts to everyone? I don’t hand out vouchers for Amazon and Boots to my friends when it is my birthday. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? And, if Christians are right and he was born to absolve us of our sins, then hasn’t he given us enough anyway?

In the UK, our traditions are just a great big mash up of these traditions. Santa Claus, which must be a corruption of Samichlaus, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas (who’s Saint day is 6th December) are all the same person to us. I remember being told that if I wasn’t good that I would get a piece of coal and no presents. I used to think that Santa must be very forgiving or completely senile because I never once found even the slightest trace of coal in my stocking on Christmas Day.

My first Swiss Christmas was great because of the whole variety of food that we had: Cheese Fondue with lashings of garlic on Christmas Eve, Mongolian Topf for Christmas Dinner and Fondue Chinoise for Boxing Day.

I know that this year I will most likely be eating the same meat (in our house normally beef or lamb) for the next 3 days in sandwiches, cold meat platters, curries etc. But that’s ok because I am so looking forward to a lovely Christmas lunch. Christmas lunch is basically a Sunday Roast on a more epic scale. I can’t remember the last time I had a Sunday Roast. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

But even if the Roast is burnt and the Brussel sprouts have been boiled within an inch of their life and I don’t get any Christmas presents because Santa has realised that I was actually very naughty in the summer of 1987, none of that really matters. What matters is the people sat round the table, the laughter that echoes around the house and the memories that we make together.

A Very Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Old problem, new experience

17 Nov

This week in Switzerland I have encountered an age-old problem which resulted a new and slightly surprising experience. The three words mostly likely to instill fear and dread into a commuter back home are: replacement bus service.

After 5 years, it was the first time that have experienced this in Switzerland. They are working at night on the train line that runs through our village and, because my German lesson finishes at 9, I had to alight one stop before I would normally and take the bus.

I have taken so many bus replacement services over the year in England and I won’t be coy about it. I hate them. With a passion. I am sure that anyone who had taken them is much of the same view.

Things were different here. The bus is already waiting. The bus looks big enough to take all of the passengers. The driver responds cheerfully when you ask if this bus is going to your stop. It’s like a parallel universe.

Normally the bus replacement takes forever and the bus manages to take a route which virtually passes every residential street in the area and doesn’t seem to go the most direct route. It could be that I was lucky that my stop was the first one but I was actually home only five minutes later than I would be if the train had gone to my stop. I was also quite lucky that the service was at night and the roads were a lot quieter.


It makes me wonder why more repairs to essential services are not done in the UK at night. It makes it a lot easier and a lot less stressful for commuters. All that seems to happen though, is that the price are increased, the services are worse and no one is happy about it.

Coincidentally, I also noticed this week that they don’t have cat’s eyes in Switzerland. I’m not sure why I haven’t realised this before. I researched this on the internet a bit and it seems that cat’s eyes are only know in UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland and the US. For those of you how don’t know, cat’s eyes are a reflective device that are placed along road markings to help drivers at night. They were invented in England and get their name because the device work on a similar basis as to how cat’s eyes work.

As a child, I was traumatised by someone telling me that they actually put dead cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. I really could imagine roadworks scooping up the dead eyes and cementing them into the middle of the road.

Thankfully that story was not true but every time I see cat’s eyes, I still wonder if the cat had a good life and if he would have wanted to have lived on helping drivers stay safe.

Bonfire Night

9 Nov

Although it might be a bit late to be blogging about Bonfire Night (it was last Sunday after all), I have just finished watching the BBC Drama Gunpowder, which is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the 5th November and the plot to kill the King of England and the politicians in the House of Parliament.

After the first installment of the three part drama, the BBC was flooded with complaints about the episode, saying that it was unnecessarily gory. I was actually quite surprised that it wasn’t gory enough. One scene showed the public executions and the camera “looked away” at the really graphic parts. You did see someone having their intestines pulled out while they were still alive, but I am sure that the guts and gore was mainly made up of sausages and other things that you might find in the bin of the local butchers. I am convinced that what went on in the Jacobian era was actually a lot more horrifying.

The drama reminded me of what a rich history we have in England. Try to explain to someone from another country that in each November we gather in a field and set fire to the effigy of a Catholic from the 17th century and they will look at you in complete dismay. In Switzerland, there is the ritual burning of a snowman in April to get rid of the winter, which has a lot more positive and much less sinister message than burning someone because of their religion.

Bonfire Night is one of the traditions that I miss. Nothing is quite so British as waiting in the freezing cold for someone to set off some fireworks. All the while complaning about how much it cost to get in and that you will not be doing this again next year. As a child I remember being so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes. I was so glad to be back in the warmth again to thaw out. By the time the next year came round we had forgot how cold a November evening could be and we were excited about going again. It’s a shame that the torch light parade that used to happen in our village stopped because of health and safety reasons. The world has gone mad.

It was Abba who said “the history book on the shelf, it’s always repeating itself”. I wonder if Guy Fawkes would have been inclined to use the same tactics today? Back then, people were complain about how the country was being run and people are still making the same complaints today. If he had have been successful all those years ago, perhaps we would have a parade in his honour and not be burning him on a pile of old wood.fireworks-2922007__340

Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.


Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.