On the move… again. Now let’s see, it’s all a very long time ago, maybe it was just after Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo or maybe it was more recent, I can’t quite remember; no wait it was sometime in 1959 or thereabouts. We had just moved to Switzerland, all of us, the entire family, my parents, the dog, the auntie, the uncle, the cousins… the whole lot. The dog was maybe the most troubled by his new environment. Imagine having to walk on a lead on a neat and tidy Swiss road and for the first time in your life you meet a fire hydrant, suspiciously scowling at you with two huge eyes; most upsetting really when all you have seen in your life is lush trees, endless forest and the guaranteed rabbit one could pursue just for fun.
Not sure how well we fared in the beginning but it was all very strange for a while. For the past year, we had lived a bit in limbo. Sort of between the Netherlands and a mountain resort where we could ski all winter long and learn French. Coming to think of it… I don’t really remember any school during that time. I think my mother sometimes brought along one of the old colonial aunties who had been a teacher in Indonesia. I suppose they call that “Home teaching” nowadays. Whatever it was, it probably caused serious gaps in my education which may explain a lot… there again, skiing, walking, trekking and exploring, as far as my cousin and I were concerned vastly compensated for this state of affairs. But then one day our houses in Lausanne were finished and so the whole lot came down the mountain, and suddenly we were in what most people seem to call in “the civilised world”. After a series of futile attacks on various local fire hydrants even the dog in his wisdom probably decided that barking against it did not seem to move the bloody thing but there again, it might be quite useful to pee against instead.
It’s entirely possible that we had moved into September, although there is no proof of that, although I do remember that I suddenly found myself in a genuine Swiss school not too far from our neck of the woods. Woods might be an overstatement because trees had clearly lost the battle against bricks, mortar and concrete.
Anyway, so there I was in what they called the "annexe". The annexe was a much smaller and older building, separate from the much larger school complex where they put suspicious-looking foreign kids, atheist, infidels, Canadians, Vikings and the sort, all eight or nine of them with limited French but who somehow had to be integrated into a normal school system.
Ah, I may have forgotten to mention that this particular school was, at that time, run by San Bernardino priests… or something like that. Anyway, they wore some sort of long tunic and sandals with white socks… you have to understand that until then I had only vaguely heard of a guy who seemed to have had an argument with the Romans and for his troubles they had nailed him to a cross, other than that however, the concept of religion was quite alien to me. Little wonder then, that for a San Bernardino priest, the urge not to convert some of us, must have required a great deal of restraint and self- denial.
The good old priest, however, was a very understanding man, in fact looking back into that faraway grey past I can even now still recall his face, I can only have praise for him trying to instil a degree of civilisation and education into a bunch of Northerners who still seem to be closer to Thor and other gods and goddesses. Patiently, along with several hours of the French language and various Swiss school subjects, he did his very best to prepare us to, at some point to join a regular class with perfectly “normal” kids, that is to say, kids who could follow a normal school curriculum in relatively perfect French. Hmm, perfect after about eight months was maybe not exactly the right word but somehow I was well on my way to being integrated into the Swiss way of life. Several years later, at times, I would see the man who had patiently taught us proper French pass by our house walking his dog, a dark coloured Boxer; he had traded in his cassock for more casual clothing and seemed to be enjoying his retirement.