Morning encounters with noisy goblins

There are times when you are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. On a hot summer day this choice is easy to make. I would take the sea over the devil any day. Sipping a cool drink on beach while the waves of the sea gently lap at your heels,  is a much pleasant alternative to the red skinned, two horned devil pricking you with a pitchfork.

But the choice between pink goblins or noisy ones is a slightly more tricky one…sometimes even a non-choice, as you cannot really avoid any of them. You see, both of them invade into your early morning slumber. The slumber tastes especially sweet on a cold winter morning when it’s -10 degrees outside and just the thought of stepping down from the bed sends a chill down your bones. If you have a daughter, you are bound to run into the pink goblins sooner or later (famously elaborated in my last post). And if you live in Switzerland, then on every last school day of the year before the christmas holidays there is no escape from the noisy ones. Try what you may, they will track you down faster and more accurately than a heat seeking missile.

Switzerland and noise are like chalk and cheese … hardly to be spoken about in the same breath. Yet once a year at precisely 6 AM in the morning, the streets of practically every town in Switzerland turn into a cacophonous orgy of noise, clang and din. Rumor has it that Martians and other funny looking bug-eyed aliens routinely bypass earth on this day for the fear of their delicate spaceship controls being fried off by the high-pitched noises emerging from an otherwise calm alpine nation.

Some of you must be wondering what could the possible source of this noise be? Fret not, as you are not alone. Many theories have been put forward to explain this phenomena over the last few years. Some of the common misconceptions that typically do the rounds are as follows :

  • All the Swiss cows fart in unison on that day
  • The millions of cheese factories have their annual cheese cauldron cleaning day
  • A secret chip implanted in all the cuckoo clocks gets activated and they go off simultaneously
  • The funkily named subatomic particles have a head on colliding party inside the Large Hadron Collider
  • All the swiss watchmakers throwing down their delicate tools with a relief that over the upcoming holidays they will not have to work on those darned minuscule watch parts
  • All the bankers count their gold coins together trying to prove off that ‘My pile is higher than yours’

But as you have guessed by now, these theories as interesting as they may sound, are nowhere near the truth. The real reason that yours truly has discovered is as follows. On the last school day of the year before christmas holidays, the swiss school kids get a license to shock the hell out of poor souls peacefully slumbering in their beds. A typical street scene on that morning looks like this.

All the kids dress up in their warmest clothes, bring out the noisiest substance in their home (which is often themselves) and run to their school in the wee hours in the morning when all is still dark. There they are greeted by the teachers who wait for this day eagerly every year. On this day the teachers, who have suffered all year round at the hands of the kids, have the possibility to give it back to their parents, using their own kids as a means. Carl Jung called this syndrome ‘You oughtta know!‘. Alanis Morissette then famously plagiarized the words of his theory and conjured up a smash hit.

And smash and hit is what the kids have a license for that morning. The otherwise docile kids walk around all the streets banging away at their metallic instruments and screaming at the top of their voices. The louder they clang, the more appreciation they get from their teachers and other kids. The wackier the instruments they use the produce the sounds, the higher up the kids move up on the ‘Cool wall’. If you want to make it big on that day and be a star, old pots and pans banged together will not do. If your dad happens to be a heavy beer drinker or your mom an obsessive tomato sauce freak, the byproducts of their passion can come in very handy that morning as well.

Drunk on the motley sounds gleefully produced by their noisy orchestra, they march on. The procession continues till the time the kids either grow ravenously hungry or their instruments break or every single person in town is woken up and comes out begging and pleading for some peace and quiet. The kids are then rounded up by the teachers and led back to the schools for a hearty breakfast before they are unleashed on their parents for the rest of the vacation.

This tradition has been apparently going on for a few hundred years is lovingly called ‘Schulsilvester’. The intent being to welcome the new year and drive away the old one.  How far that is true is anyone’s guess, but the streets are surely a lively place to be on that morning.

Here’s to a smashing 2012 !

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Morning encounters with pink goblins

Thursday and Friday mornings in the Luthra household are not for the faint-hearted. Compared to what the hapless dad has to go through on these two fateful days, Frodo’s journey across Mordor in the ‘Lord of the rings’ was a cakewalk. The invasion of Normandy beach was a stroll in the park. The ascent of Mt. Everest was easy as pie. History needs to be corrected. Each of these and many other similar feats are wrongly lauded as epic achievements, stories of success achieved against insurmountable odds. After I finish this post, I will get to work to correct the Wikipedia entries for each of these so-called achievements to set the record straight once and for all.

The real achievement that should be lauded is for a dad to get a 5 yr old beauty queen ready for kindergarten in the morning. I am not just talking about throwing on some clothes, a jacket, a pair of shoes, stuffing the snack box into a satchel and packing her off. No sir… we are dealing with the reincarnation of Kate moss here. (The perfectionist bean counters out there will immediately retort that Kate Moss is still alive – but they will be missing the point)

The ritual has to start the previous evening. A UN committee meeting is called before bedtime to scan the entire wardrobe and present at least 3 dress options to her highness. The choices need to possess the right mix of eclectic flamboyance, colour co-ordination and panache. You have to foresee the frame of mind that she might be the next morning and will the hues match the aura that will be surrounding her when she arises from her beauty sleep? And if any of your hapless proposals contain any shade of pink, blue, red, green, mauve, beige, purple that she might have touched in the last week – they will be shot down with a nonchalant wave of the hand. This will be carried out while she is focussed on the ‘5 minute princess tales’ and admiring the necklaces and scarves of Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow-white or any of the perfect princesses and mermaids sketched out in their full gleaming glory.

And if you are having a really bad day, one of the princesses’ sketches will be shown to you across the room and you will be asked to choose a skirt that is of the same colour as the Mulan’s bracelet. Mind you – you have to be quick. The picture will be shown to you for exactly 2 nanoseconds from across the room, at an awkward angle, while the book is being waved around. And you don’t get a second look. I guess 2 nanoseconds might be enough for Karl Lagerfeld or Coco Chanel, but certainly not for yours truly. Plus it does not help that the almighty decided to bestow upon me the gift of a slight case of color blindness which ensures the inability to distinguish between certain shades of red and green.

This lethal combination of fleeting image recognition misapprehension and genetic chromatic cognition disability leads to a blue skirt being produced for her highness’s inspection. But the demand was for a light purple one with a hint of mauve. The choice is shot down faster than Billy the kid’s ‘quick-draw, shoot’ ritual. Then comes a sigh – “Ok, I will choose it myself”. The cosy comfort of the bed fluffed with a hundred cushions is temporarily relinquished. The floor is blessed by the touch of her feet as she saunters across to the cupboard with feline grace. In a flash the correct  drawer is smoothly pulled out and the light purple skirt with a hint of mauve is delicately produced and a triumphant proclamation laced with a hint of slight exasperation is announced  “Papa, this was the one I wanted”.

The dad thanks his stars, gives a goodnight peck to the daughter, arranges the chosen clothes neatly, breathes a sigh of relief, turns off the light and walks out the room to join his wife in the living room. ……. But as he walks out, he cannot hear the faint laughter of a million little pink goblins that reside in the bottom shelf of her highness’ cupboard. “The real ordeal awaits him in the morning …. heh, heh, heh….”

The million pink goblins live in this …

pink goblins residing among a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things

Come the next morning, after the chosen clothes have been adorned, the next gauntlet in thrown. ‘Papa, can you pls choose the right hair clip/band that will match my dress?’

Gingerly, the bottom most drawer is opened by the dad. He stares into it like a hapless to-be victim staring into the eyes of shooting squad. As the dad reaches into this treasure trove containing a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things, the pink goblins living inside this drawer get to work. They take the matching hair band that will pass her highness’ approval and hide it right at the bottom of this bottomless pit. Try what he might, the dad cannot produce the correct accessory. The pink goblins feast on his helplessness and prolong his fruitless search by continually changing the hiding place of that perfect hair band.

Time ticks on…. the uber-punctual swiss train that dad is supposed to catch to his office thunders towards the station. Desperation starts to creep in and his pulse quickens. With one eye on the clock and the other eye on this bottomless accessory pit … he continues to struggle against the goblins. Because the veins near his temples that are now throbbing at full pressure, he cannot hear the laughter of the pink goblins which has now reached a crescendo. If he had a third eye behind his head, he would notice that her highness is busy browsing through ‘The tales of mermaid Ariel’ to choose the colour of her dress for tomorrow.

As point break approaches, he calls out for help. Her highness drops her book with a sigh, reaches into the accessory pit and in an instant pulls out a light pink frilly hairband adorned with purple and silver stars which will provide the perfect contrast to her skirt and jacket. Dad mutters a quick prayer to all the 27 million Indian gods and a handful of the western ones as well. The pink goblins have been defeated once again. They retreat to their frilly dungeons and plan for the next morning’s assault.

Dad and little Ms. Kate Moss emerge triumphant into to crisp winter air. The daughter, decked up in her full resplendent glory, sashays down the path to her kindergarten while the dad rushes along hoping to get to the station before the train gets there. All is well with the world again.

______________________________________________________________

Today was a thursday and battle was won. As I sit here and write this in the still of the night, I can hear the pink goblins whispering and plotting. I must now go to bed to ensure my energy is conserved, as another epic tussle awaits us in the morning……

Memories or a few dollars ?

So what would you rather have – Memories or a few dollars more ? … Here’s what i mean

Pick up a book to read. The touch of the book’s cover sends electrical impulses rushing through your nerves, which excites neurons in the brains and an image springs to your mind. A crisp day in October, you are standing in one of the most beautiful places on this earth. A quaint shop located at the edge of a mystical village, set on sun-kissed plateau high in the mountains, where time stands still. Houses are made of massive stone blocks and mortar, beautifully hand decorated with local motifs, carved wooden doors more than 300 yrs old. Streets are paved with cobblestones. To get to the next town, you either trek down a winding mountain path for 45 minutes or wait for a bus that runs every hour. Just round the corner is a cafe, you can smell a freshly baked chocolate cake – which on this cold day, will be heavenly with a frothy cappuccino while you excitedly leaf through your new book.

Or does the book conjures up memories of you sitting huddled in front of your GRS, late at night. Searching frantically through multiple websites or comparing prices from a hundred sellers on amazon, and then waiting for days or weeks for the book to arrive? Or worse … none at all.

I don’t know about you, i unabashedly prefer the first memory.

That was exactly what i experienced a couple of evenings back when i picked up a book for a bed time story for my son. The book in question is a simple but beautiful children’s book called ‘The Snowstorm’ by Selina Chönz & Alois Carigiet. Coincidently the book is set and was bought in the same village described above – Guarda, in the Engadine region of Switzerland, where the hero of the book, a boy called Ursli, supposedly lived.

'Snowstorm' by Selina Chönz & Alois Carigiet

So the original question again – the memories of having acquired an object or an experience in a special place  are exactly that – special. Rather than saving 7 dollars (or Swiss francs) by ordering this book over the internet. Then in a giant warehouse someone unceremoniously lumps the book into a cardboard packet, ticks a box on a checklist, pastes a barcode with your customer code printed across it and moves on to the next ‘special delivery’. Surely a cheaper way, but so much more dull. And saving 7 dollars, won’t exactly make you a millionaire, will it?

Just thinking of the fantastic time that we had over there, makes me want to go back there. Maybe we go back there in Spring. Till then, a taste of that beautiful place.

A typical house in Guarda, Engadine Switzerland. Behind it is the shop where the book was bought

local motifs painted on house, Guarda, Engadine Switzerland

local motifs painted on house

Guarda, in the distance set on the edge of a mountain

Many thanks to our wonderful swiss-greek couple friend who introduced our kids to the other Ursli book. If you have kids, buy this book for them. And while you are at it, encourage them to gather some experiences that they will remember for times to come.

Help! Lego has taken over our house

It is indeed strange to be sending over this plea for help into the giant black hole of the WWW (World Wide Web) … but i guess it is worth a shot. This reminds of how in the late 70’s, NASA on one of their many missions to explore the GWU (Great Wide Universe), sent a gold record (LP, vinyl, schalplatter… whatever you want to call it) with music and messages from the people of the earth. The paradox is quite staggering – a civilisation advanced enough to send a mission to outer space but still backward enough to use LPs as a sound storage medium. I am sure that ship was captured by two alien kids 200 light-years away out on their morning stroll, and they used that LP to scrape off space bugs splattered on the windscreen of their infinite-synergetic-drive space scooter.

Anyway, my immediate concern is not the alien kids or the gold LP, but Lego®, yes Lego, those wonderful blocks/connectable shapes that those kindered souls in Denmark create for the kids world over, which is multiplying at this moment in my house using the same infinte-synergetic-drive-multiplication principle.

Let’s start with this …

This flying Lego car is always waiting next to the main door, springing unannounced upon hapless family members (read mum & dad) as they dare to set foot in its kingdom. Once you get past it unhurt, you have to dodge past this desert storm racer/chaser whose only aim in life is turn a corner at a 100 miles an hour and shoot round pellets at you.

At any given point in time there are at least two races going on in different rooms, which have such a huge following that Bernie Ecclestone (the F1 supremo) will gladly give his leftover hair for even a fraction of that fan base. Then there are indescribable contraptions that only a 7 yr old (my son) can understand.

Heck, Lego men have even descended from the sky and are hiding in our christmas tree!

Santa has surely received his hundred page gift catalog by now and is on his way from the north pole with another truckload of their brethren. So if there is anyone out there who has lived through this or knows what these Lego men are upto, drop me a line. And don’t tell my son that I complained about this – for even a greater storm of Lego will be unleashed and your’s truly will be well and truly buried.

… then why are they telling us?

why

“But dad … then why are they telling us?” said the 4 yr. old boy. An innocent remark, but a profoundly important one.

So let’s put this into context and start again. This remark was in a small story narrated by our very good Swiss/Greek couple friend over a cup of cappuccino, home-made plum schnapps and Greek candied fruit mixed with yoghurt.

Here is the setting: Last night, my friend and his 4 yr. old son are watching TV in their fantastic little house overlooking the best part of the Swiss Alps, and a news report about some extremely heavy snow in China comes on the TV.

Son – “Dad, Where is China?”

Dad – “Son, It is very, very far away from Switzerland – halfway around the world”

Son – “If it so far away, then why are they telling us about snowfall there?”

Dad – “mmmm…….” (No answer that will make sense to a 4 yr. old)

Now… think about this for a moment, for a 4 yr. old, it makes no difference whatsoever what happens in a place called China (at least not yet), why does he have to be told about snowfall there – there is more than enough of it in Switzerland!

And I cannot agree with him more, this is information overload of the highest order. Information is all around us today – beaming over fiber-optic cables, over satellites, TV, radio, internet, smartphones, signboards, newspapers, blogs (like this one J). Can we make sense of all this information? Does it make us any wiser? Are we just addicted to information, like an addiction to drugs? Do we have to check the online status of our friends every minute? The exact standing of our portfolio (which we convinced over selves is invested for the long run) over our iPhone while waiting at a traffic light? Do I have to watch a continuous coverage over Sky news of a ‘breaking story’ about a cat stuck in a tree in small town outside Ipswich? Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in his fantastic book Fooled by Randomness “I don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or parties. If a piece of information is important, it will find you – you don’t have to go looking for it!”

So next time you are told a galactically important piece of information that you could have lived without – put on the thinking hat of a 4 yr. old and ask the question – “Why are you telling me that?” … Say it clearly, but remember to say it nicely.

A little trickery and creativity goes a long way!

I have 2 kids, who possess many unique superpowers & (so-far) hidden skills that will undoubtedly make them world famous one day. One of these powers, however is less unique and shared with countless other 4 / 7 yr olds around the world. And that is their ability to sense anything remotely nutritious in their food and run a country mile.

So one day, being charged with the responsibility of feeding them a proper lunch, while my wifey was out gallivanting, I contemplated the dilemma at hand, and a logistical regression backed hypothesis testing led me to the following choices –

  1. The easy way: French fries and chicken nuggets, out of the freezer, into the oven, into their stomachs – job done!
  2. Calvin’s mom’s way:

    calvin and hobbes cartoon about food

  3. The last – most righteous and creative: So the following was conjured up

I and my son are currently obsessed with the fantastic newly acquired Cadence Amaya hybrid electrostatic speakers, and the daughter – surprisingly with cricket. So a quick dash to the fridge, some veggies are unearthed, the Victorinox knife is yielded in precisely controlled motions. Lo and behold – the best salad creations of the whole world are presented to the kids with all the pizzazz and style that rivals the best Parisian brasserie and were devoured in record speed.

salad for kids in shape of cadence amaya speakers original cadence amaya speakers

 

salad in shape of cricket stumps

So now that you know the trick to feed your kids right, exercise your brains to answer the following questions:


The Cat’s away and the Mice can play

The story goes somewhat like this …

It’s a golden autumn evening in a quaint Swiss sub-urban town. Cool crisp air rustles the dried leaves of fiery hues on their wafting journey from the branches down to the sidewalks, illuminated by the amber glow of a setting sun. An Indian family gets together in the evening to do Ganapati pooja (For my non-Indian friends – prayers offered to the Lord Ganesha), consume copius amounts of Lindt chocolates as prasad (sweet offerings after the prayers), and have a relaxed dinner of some lovely toop-bhat (a simple but heavenly combination of steamed rice and plain yellow lentils)….

…. now Mum has to go to her weekly ‘evening sewing club’ to mingle with her swiss friends & practice stitching cute things for kids on those wonderfully precise but hideously expensive swiss made sewing machines (the one that she uses in the club costs more than a goddamned Tata Nano for heaven’s sake!!). Promises are made to mum that kids will be tucked into bed after the evening ablutions. The kids wave cheery goodbyes. As we see mum’s car leave the driveway, Dad turns to to the two hapless kids who are now at his mercy and with an evil glint in his eyes, suggests an altogether different course of action – a far more exciting one than the boring routine of brushing their teeth, reading some cute storybooks and catching forty-winks.

Would the kids like to Rock ?? YEAH!  jump up both of them. Dad runs to the CD rack, reaches for ‘The Clash – London calling’, but Apollo’s providence intervenes and a far more eclectic choice dawns upon him – ‘The School of Rock soundtrack’ … The title track is cued up in the CD player, the volume on the sublime Audio Analogue Puccini amplifier is cranked up and soon the entire house is rocking to Jack Black leading a group of school kids screaming

… and if you wanna be the teacher’s pet,
Well baby you just better forget it,
Rock got no reason,
Rock got no rhyme,
You better get me to school on time ….”

 

The two kids are headbanging and having the time of their life, the otherwise quiet neighbourhood is shaking, the swiss neighbours have never experienced this before – they are ready to believe that all their cows are revolting & invading them with cheese bombs. The 4 yr old daughter thinks that dad is coolest thing on this earth after her cats, pink dresses, princesses, fairy wands and lip glosses!  The music reaches a crescendo and the song ends in a face melting, ear-drum shattering guitar solo……….. phew! the kids slump down breathless, their nerves tingling and eager for ‘The Who’ to kick-up the next track.

But suddenly, sanity prevails on dad, the music is flicked off… decorum must be maintained at all times, he says! The kids protest & beg for more headbanging, but it’s not going to be today. They are reluctantly led to complete the mundane brushing, changing, story reading, getting tucked in bed routine and kissed goodnight.

Mum comes back from her soiree, the house is quiet, the kids are peacefully sleeping (though still rocking in their dreams), she mentally blesses the dad for taking care of the kids so well, not knowing the real deal that has gone on behind her back … heh heh heh.

…yes, yes, yes –  i know. Kids need to be introduced to more cultured things like classical music, jazz, ballet etc. They get their regular dose of those things but a few minutes of pure unadulterated rocking never hurt anyone, did it!