E Jane Dickson: 'I watch, heart in mouth, as Conor and Clara are given the run of the exciting power-tools'

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The Independent Online

"Do you think I might be a little bit Swiss?" asks Clara, hopefully.

"Do you think I might be a little bit Swiss?" asks Clara, hopefully.

I tell her I think it unlikely. As far as I know, my daughter's genes are solidly Scots/Irish, with a little bit of Yorkshire thrown in for glamour, but I know what she means. On the slopes of Lake Neuchatel, Clara has found her spiritual home. "It's so clean," she coos, sounding like the little chimney sweep in The Water Babies. "Everything here is so clean. It's like living in a picture."

She's right. The view from our window is like a scene from the Book of Hours; orchards of lollipop trees stretching to high pastures with cows who look like they've been given a shampoo and set, and beyond that, the high clear heavens of the Alps. Indeed it is so very clean that we have whiled away car journeys with prizes for anyone who can spot a scrap of litter.

"I expect they like their visitors to be tidy, too," says Clara, smoothing her homage-to-Heidi hairstyle and staring hard at her brother, who, having discovered Swiss chocolate, is in no danger whatsoever of being taken for a native. He's terribly impressed, though, by the lady at our local supermarket who gives chocolates to children at the checkout. Indeed, it's all I can do to stop him presenting each tomato in our basket as a single purchase.

"What do you think happens if you're not a very tidy boy in Switzerland?" he asks, and while I share his nervousness, suspecting by-laws approving the bludgeoning with hammers of any person with an unironed shirt, I tell him to wipe his mouth and stop being daft.

As it turns out, the fearsome tidiness of the Swiss is second only to their extraordinary tolerance of young children. I watch, heart in mouth, as our friends, organ builders of international renown, give Conor and Clara the run of the exciting power-tools in their workshop and encourage Con, to his unspeakable satisfaction, to try his hand at arc welding.

So delighted are they by the whole business that the children, with a bare minimum of bribery and sedation, sit like well-behaved mice through an organ recital. When an elderly member of the audience clears his throat, Clara treats him to her Gorgon glare. "You'd think," she sniffs, "that at his age, he'd know how to behave."

Afterwards, as a special privilege, the church warden allows us to climb up into the bell tower, just as the hour is being struck. "Fan-dabi-ocious," says Con, reeling and juddering like Quasimodo as the carillon rings out millimetres from our ears.

Far below our vibrating feet, the village is laid out like the playthings of an exceptionally orderly child and I am seized with the desire to take a very long pole and stir it all up a bit. Then I reflect that this time next week, we will be back home in London.

Chaos, I can confidently predict, will come again.

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