We’ve been in Switzerland. I accompanied her on a business trip to a beautiful town on the Swiss Riveira. Chocolate box houses lent against each other as they toddled down to the lake. The shops were incredibbly tasteful. It was only after I had stared at what seemed to be an upmarket furniture boutique for a minute that I realise it was only a tatooists. Super-chic town.

At lunch today my elderly waitress sat me next to an even more elderly, thoroughly charming  man who had recently undergone brain surgery. His large open-wound was not, ultimately, what I found to be unsettling.

At first, I must admit that I did notice it. Then as lunch drew on I became quite blasse. It was only the occasional thing that drew my attention back. The way his advanced age made him nod as he talked. The perfectly clean white dressings. The occasional glisten.

Even all of that didn’t really phase me. I ate my rissotto heartily and gave more thought to the weather, or when my girlfriend might finish work. The thing that did get me was his speech. For some medical complication or other his rich French, German and Italian kept slipping into each other. He had obviously been fluent in each. It was as if someone was wearing sumptuous clothes that clashed, starkly.

I shouldn’t have been so affected, but I was reminded about my own poor attempts to speak other languages. His languages might have bounced off each other, like elephants at the dodge’ums, but they were still miles ahead of my languages. If you will pardon the image, mine are more like two ferrets and a toad in one bucket.

Ferret one ( lets call him Bobby) is resentful of his quickly growing brother (Willhelm). Takeshi the toad tries to hide as he can and occasionally wonders what happened to Achmed and Tio (minnnows, why not, so as not to stretch the metaphore, and bucket, too much).

I realise that I have a long way to go when it comes to modern european living. Bobby and I can rule the roost in a mixed group, but the second we step away from the cities we are stuck. It’s then Willhelm or nothing, and often nothing.

I finished my rissotto.  Around the gap his scalp looked raised. I found myself to be very thankful to him, as I stumbled through asking for the bill. The rain was letting off. I fumbled through my franks with the clumsy fingering of a man who has only just gotten used to euros.


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