When we think of Switzerland, what springs to mind? Our imagination fills with a plethora, of awesome, sweeping, giant ice-capped mountains, with deep forested, green valleys, strewn with little log havens. Men stuck up mountains, blowing each other's long horns, dressed in little boy's play clothes.
But what about this damned obsession with recycling waste, the Swiss have?
I have been on two occasions to this 'picture askew' country and found out that this tiny place is one of the cleanest of any environments, I have ever seen.
This phenomenon stems from the fact that they have no ocean to chuck their rubbish into. They are jammed right inside a little bumpy bit, surrounded by Germany, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein and France, occupying a patch of land, just 300 miles at its widest point. About 16,000 square miles, or the size of Ireland, roughly. That means most of the natives have to learn eight different languages, depending where they get dropped off, by tram.
They have Italian, German speaking French people, in other words. Let's face it, that's a lot of, 'other words'. However, this doesn't mean, as a tourist, you can't get away with ordering tacos in Mexican, or Buffalo wings in Cherokee. (I didn't know they could fly?)
There is so much untouched nature there, and that is because the Swiss are very proud of their environment. If, as a Brit you are a proud also, to recycle your beer bottles at home, once a week, you will still have a dramatic culture shock, when you holiday in this country. Chemicals, paper, carton, glass, plastic, cans, textile, oil and cooking fat are all collected, sorted, and recycled separately.
Recycling crap is better than sex, for the Swiss. Even their money is recycled. They hate 'dirty money', and will gladly launder it for you, as they did, for the Nazis during WW2. A common thought that if you have everybody's money you don't need to go to war.
Swiss Army Knives.
Like their chocolate and Cuckoo clocks these are perfectly formed and seemingly useful but not much used when confronted with the enemy. One might be forgiven for allowing one's imagination to run riot at the hint of conventional warfare what a Swiss soldier might do on the front line succumbing to armed combat.
"Halt! Who goes there? Friend, or Foe!"
"Foe" Is the reply.
What is the Swiss soldier going to do?
"Don't come any closer, or I will open a bottle of wine."
"Surrender now! Or, I will have to manicure your fingernails."
"Give up your arms, prisoner, in accordance with the Geneva convention ….errr….can I pluck your eyebrows?"
"Put your hands up, or I will pick some stones out of your horses hooves."
Is it any wonder your country has a nuclear fall out shelter under each apartment block? Or, huge 100 megaton proof bunkers carved out of mountains? The army are too busy playing boy scouts with household gadjets.
You will never see litter in Bern. Or, a vagrant in Basel. In fact, you can be arrested if you don't have enough cash for a tram fare, on your person. True.
They have each day of the week for different household waste recycle tasks. They have two days of the week, alone, just for paper. One, for glossy magazine paper, and one for regular newspapers. These both have to be tied with string. You actually have to pay five francs for each plastic bag to put plastic or cans in. So, if you live like a slob, it could cost you a fortune.
(God, wake me up, when this intro is finished. It's like watching Astroturf growing)
When, I stayed with friends there, because of my drinking issues, I found that I had a whole case of empty beer and wine vessels to dispose of, down the bottle bank, almost daily. They have bottle banks on every street corner in Switzerland.
There I was, just for an eternity, popping empties, into the little hole provided. Aunt Dolly came as well, which was nice.
Suddenly, from nowhere came a uniformed oldster, haphazardly, riding a moped at what seemed, a treacherous speed. He had a face of thunder, and waving a riding crop. It flashed into my mind. If this isn't the Devil himself, it must be the guy that rocks him to sleep.
He sped up to me, popped his Lambretta on a stand, in much haste, with an orange beacon, left, flashing on the back. He strode towards me, pointing at me with his baton, or crop. I confess, I felt a measure of intimidation, and my heart thudded. I had never been so frightened of an old person in my life, even, when Aunt Dolly tried to kiss me at an airport once, behind the 'hangers'. Well, she nearly had stroke this time.
The man started scolding us, flailing his arms about, like a demented wasp, snatching my remaining can debris, and tugging at my sleeve, pulling me to the side of the bottle bank. I was sure, that I was going to read as a Swiss paper headline, the next day, "British holiday maker 'recycled', by the Geriatric Garbage Gestapo."
Aunt Dolly tried to interject and was barged out of the way by the psychotic OAP. Poor Auntie was horrified at such behaviour and started to cry.
He waggled his finger in the direction of a curious contraption, strapped on the side of the disposal unit, jibbering, Swiss abuse. I think the definitive command "use the can-squisher first, you feckin' wanker", is pretty much, universally interpretable.
He gave me a very animated demonstration on how to use the gizmo, and I smiled gratefully, feeling suitably humiliated, at this point. He calmed down. I apologised and he revved up his bike, and went tearing off up the road, no doubt to change out of his cape, Clark Kent fashion, inside a phone kiosk, until the next opportunity to save the bleeding planet arose, inside his own warped and tight-arsed little existence.
Not taking the piss out of the Swiss, but they have a little too much time on their hands, by my own proof positive, observation to follow.
What further astounded me were the vast queues in supermarkets.
I trundled on a tram to the nearest shop. All I wanted was a postcard to send to 'Blighty', from Aunt Dolly, and me. She stayed in, that day apartment with an Earl Grey, and one of her migraines. I didn't want to leave her behind, but she was un-packing, on top of everything else.
I would have preferred if she put it all straight into the drawers and wardrobes, personally. Instead, the packing was left on the bed, right on top of everything else. Which hardly what I needed, I mean, on top of everything else.
I saw rows and rows of postcards, each with a mountain, with loads of snow on top of everything else.
"Not again!" I huffed.
"How, bloody unusual? Who thought it would be a good idea to keep so many mountains steeped in snow?" I thought. I had spent ten minutes to find one postcard, that didn't look much the same, as all the others. It was of a divvy looking bloke in a national dress costume. That irked me, because you can always get pictures of Morris dancers at home, and seemed such a waste of a journey, to come here for a picture of another 'poofy' bloke, dressed like a big girl's blouse. Next time, I vowed to stay at home, if I wanted to send postcards, and make one from a simple set of instructions from my 'Powerpoint' computer program. rather than waste my time and money going on holiday in this way again.
Anyway, too late for that, now. There I was with it, in my sweaty mitt, ready to pay the exorbitant price of 3 francs (as then) with a myriad of souls in lined in front of me.
Now, if the Swiss were told to queue to be disembowelled with Swiss table cutlery, one by one, then they would do so, willingly, in long, quiet, orderly lines. You think the British can queue? Not, like these guys. It's like the annual Isle of Wight backpackers convention, early morning toilet rush, with only one cubicle, wherever you go. They just need to be dusted occasionally, and they are quite happy to fritter there lives away for the benefit of going 'green'. I was 'going green' with envy and wished I had stayed with Aunt Dolly and rub lavender into her temples.
Just then, I had an overwhelming bowel movement, I felt another contraction emerging. I fidgeted impatiently. Finally, with combined sphincter anal acrobatics, at intervals, I got served, only to find out, I was in the blinking recycling queue. How, you might ask, only when I visit another country, should I transform into an adult with a learning disability, two doses shy of the medication? I handed my postcard to the supervisor, who promptly, posted it into a big bin of waste paper. I tried to explain, but I was too busy, trying not to have a trouser indiscretion, and was evicted from the queue, having to do a bit of my own health and hygiene recycling at the earliest convenience.
Why queue, for submitting litter in supermarkets? Because, you get paid, that's why? The more litter you make, the more credits you get. I came to the comforting conclusion that this financial empire of the world has more money than sense. Yes, I know we don't do enough with the environment in this country, but why make a total bugbear like recycling, so bloody time-consuming, a fun national pastime and far more important than even knowing the name of your next door neighbour.
Don't expect to make friends with the Swiss at any juncture. They take any attempts by foreigners to ask for a stick of bread in a shop, as a personal insult. I wouldn't say they are xenophobic towards multinationals, but I didn't see many mixed race folk, at all. Only, sweeping, the already, pristine streets. This must be the Swiss version of ethnic cleansing.
Christ, if my dustman has anything else less to do, he will be able to do his job from an armchair at home. The best he can do, is tie a knot in the solitary black bag, and affix it to a Pyracantha tree, leaving me no option but to rip a curtain of flesh from anybody trying to retrieve it. Then, when filled, he thoughtfully picks it up and the contents are evenly liberated across my garden making it look like the result of a suicide bomb in the bedding department of DFS.
Sorry to be fussy. It makes me sound like Aunt Dolly again. Helping her with bedroom routine, or asking to butter her muffin, but as a kid, I can remember, how we had a leather capped guy, who used to actually come into our garden, and physically, pick up a bin full of hot hearth ashes and potato peelings together. Then sling them into truck.
He didn't have a romantic relationship with all the crap in the street. He didn't chastise you, for not putting used teabags into a separate organic bag, or separating the supplement from the Observer. We had a 'Rag and Bone' man, singing 'Any Ole Iron' from a pony and trap. We even, used to pick up the horseshit and dig that into the roses. No, travelling miles in your car, polluting the air with carbon monoxide to a council tip, only to find it, shut. We didn't have a fridge to waste power on, and threaten the ozone with CFC's. Our larder was a concrete slab. After one hot day, the Spam was reproducing its own civilisation unaided. You went to the greengrocers to buy what you needed for the day. Not 'hoard' goods, literally like there is no tomorrow, just how we so-called 'environmentally astute' people, do now.
Why, do consumers today, throw away 'out of date' food that had more preservative in it, than Lenin when he lay in state? In my day if the milk went off, it doubled as cottage cheese. If the mutton tried to leave the plate, we knew it meant a week off school, but at least we wouldn't starve.
If anything broke, like the TV, bike, furniture, it got fixed by your Dad, or the milkman. Socks were darned, clothes were handed down, not just thrown away, and more 'designer labels' bought. I didn't have a bloody computer as a kid. I had a box, and a piece of string, attached to a real mouse. You saved up to get married. You saved up to get a new gate-leg table, by staying with your Mum and Dad, until they told you to fuck off and sponge off the other set of parents. You had to wait until you had populated a sub continent, to be considered for, or even afford a council house. What was then, a 'two up two down' with a bed and a chair, and matching mildew. My Dad had his first car at forty odd, years of age. A 1961 green Ford Consul. It did ten miles to the gallon, and that was just the oil.
Women were not even trusted to drive. They were only allowed prams to steer, and the new Mark 1 shopping trolley, (just invented ) or the twin tub, when it used to take on a life of its own, and do a lap of honour around the kitchen threatening to mow down the cat.
Now, we have young 'oiks' terrorising our roads, and at Tesco car parks, buzzing around with 'under-lit' new cars. Why? Because, we are told, by the molly coddling, 'woolly hatters' and 'bunny huggers,' that 'the poor youngsters on our streets, don't have enough to do in their community'. Tell you what, get them cleaning up the streets like the Swiss do. If kids loiter on a street corner there, they get taken in a van and put in custody overnight, just like any stray dog. They got that bit right, for sure.
We grew our own vegetables, and my Mum used to bake and spend her life, saving Green Shield Stamps to get a Deluxe clothes horse. We had a tin bath as twins by the fire, or paraffin stove. If the Esso Blue man, didn't show, we had to sleep with our parents to keep warm. That's why, we only ever had three surnames in our whole town. My sister and I, always prayed that Grandma didn't stay over, when we ran out of heating fuel. Otherwise, this would mean, sleeping with her in the spare room, and opting for the shallow end.
The Swiss Role.
The Swiss are in denial. They should try war sometime, and really find out what recycling is all about. I suppose trying to fight a war with a stupid, multi use, fiddly, little army knife, wouldn't constitute a 'first strike', would it?
"Halt, who goes there. Friend or Foe?"
"Err, Its Foe, actually."
"Right, don't move. Don't come any closer…Drop your rifle, or I will open this bottle of wine ….Now, put your hand up, so I can trim your fingernails for you, with these handy mini-scissors."
They just seem to mince about in their spotless little paradise. Their, insulated, money driven utopia, with nothing better to do, than pick up feckin' litter, hide in Nuclear shelters in mountains, or under their rented apartments, thinking, "Oh, shit, looks likes no other country is bothered to bomb us, because we are soooooooooo bloody, selfish and boring. Better, get all my yoghurt cartons recycled, instead."
Well, if you must know, Aunt Dolly had a Swiss clock in her dining room, and I used it, for target practice with my BB gun. One day, at I o'clock, sharp, as soon as 'Heidi and the Woodcutter' appeared, I blew their self-satisfied, little bloody heads off.
I got a real good larruping, from Aunt Dolly. She said, "This won't be as much fun for you, as it is for me", and so she did, give me a jolly pasting. I knew what was coming as she unbuttoned my grey stiff, itchy serge shorts. I don't know what she was doing wearing them, in the first place, but Aunt Dolly knew best, and how to cope with these situations. After all, she was my governess too. Her discipline never did me any harm, and the same even today.
But, it was worth the soreness, and I have to thank Aunt Dolly, for being strict with me. Bringing me up Christian, and straight. She always forgave me for being naughty, and would dry my tears, while gently rubbing some Vaseline, into my poor throbbing bottom. Oh, it did feel much better. Then she put some on my buttocks too, to stop the smarting, so I could ride my bike again.
I remember, we had warm milk for bedtime, and no more was said about the matter. She woke me up in the morning, in her usual way, playing 'find the rabbit hole, in the forest' or 'lets' play the pink clarinet' and the incident was forgotten about. Not many men of my age can boast, of having such an attentive custodian as Aunt Dolly. She was always there, to spank me when I really deserved it, but then again, willing to play a game of good old fashioned 'wheelbarrow' around the parlour. When my parents were always out for some reason. Probably, in case smashed an ornament or something. Good old Aunty Dolly, what a bippity, boppity, boo of a sport!
It was a narrow squeak, but at least I stopped Hans and Heidi bloody yodelling, on the hour, every hour. The cuckoo, before them, 'bought it' too.