The Village

I learned to walk in a village, not far from Zurich, which has a river running through it and whose name means smooth fields. I’m nineteen months, a late developer, and gripping the bars of my grandfather’s crib, I haul myself upright and take my first steps. My mum’s family has lived in the village for centuries, and at one time, almost the entire place was run by a tribe of my high-collared, mustachioed ancestors. The butcher, the baker, the schoolteacher jailed for his over-interest in the girls. Grandfather’s crib stands in the smallest bedroom of a big pink house with a redcurrant orchard, the first on its street. Before the house: just fields. Smooth ones.
Actually, nobody lives there now.
Tante Helene was the last one left. After she collapsed in the bathroom, everything was sold and the money divided up. A new family moves into the pink house. They tarmac over the orchard and install a carport.
I learned to swim at the open air pool by the river which runs through the smooth fie…

Marmalade Eyes

She has a rare condition known only as Marmalade Eyes. The eyeball is held in place in the socket by that sticky orange preservative. It's not debilitating, only a little embarrassing in the summer months when the flies buzz around. But it's good to have her favourite condiment on tap at hotel breakfasts.


I saw a girl at the park today
chasing footballs, in white tights
she’d dirtied, green-grass-stained
at the knee

while her father, on the bench
(Dolores Stern – she loved this place)
chinwagged with his double, and
her mother, back home
busied herself at the hot plate.

The Lake

Mum and I arrive by rail into an unremarkable lakeside town which clings to the northern border of her homeland. It’s a route famous for pretty mountain views, but the whole way it rains and I spend the journey slumped into my phone. I’m thirty and I’m about to be divorced. My cousin marries a Catholic girl in an enormous fussy church. There are a dozen altar boys and a choir in the eves. There’s a dog in a tiara. I stand in the picture window of the brown hotel on the lakeside of the unremarkable town and watch as my relatives, in their coral silk and pale suits, troop off to the reception. When they’re gone, I change into jeans and go down to the shore. I wander through the minigolf course, tatty and deserted in the autumn chill, and consider buying chips from the stand. Instead, I go into a glass-fronted restaurant and order a plate of rösti. I do it in badly accented German, probably screwing up the case.