Monday, 23 October 2017

At the forefront of sustainable living

Our little village of Brütten is at the forefront of the march to reduce global co2 emissions with the creation of the first solar powered zero emission housing complex in the world!

On November 19, 2015, around 150 guests celebrated the ‘topping out’ ceremony when the structural work and timber work truss were erected and by last summer residents were able to move into the nine family sized zero-emission flats, which are not linked to any electrical, oil or gas connections – and not even wood is allowed as fuel.

Brütten is an ideal location as it lies 640 m above sea level and is above the fog line, as well as being on the main thoroughfare between Zürich and Winterthur.

To maximize the collection of solar energy, the most efficient solar panels are utilized to line the entire facade of the building, turning the building essentially into a power plant. Energy consumption is kept to a minimum using LED lights and A+++ household appliances.

Just one hour of sunlight is apparently sufficient to provide for a whole day's energy needs. However, as Brütten averages eight hours of sunlight in summer, the excess energy can be stored in batteries for short term use of three to four days. Alternatively, the photovoltaic energy can be converted into hydrogen for long-term storage of up to 25 days (often necessary in December and January to bridge the low sunlight gap)

The building also has a built-in information system helping the residents optimize their energy usage of warm water, lighting and heating, PCs and other electrical devices.

The architecture, designed by René Schmid Architekten, is an incredible example of great design and technique. The building is not only technically efficient but also beautifully designed with warm colours and rooms allowing plenty of sunlight.

Residents are also obliged to use energy saving transportation, comprising two motor vehicles: a car which runs on bio fuel and an electrical car powered by the building's photovoltaic equipment. Biological waste from the residents is transferred to a special bio fuel converter.

This building concept is based upon the principles of “collect, accumulate, save and conscientious energy usage” without any loss of comfort. Although no advertising was made, more than 100 rental inquiries were made before the flats (consisting of 7 x 4.5, 1 x 3.5, 1 x 2.5 rooms) were completed.

The apartment rents are very reasonable - with CHF 2500 for a 4.5 room apartment, which includes energy usage based on a bonus system. Tenants are forced to live a lifestyle with a low energy footprint as they only have as much energy as the building is able to produce and store. They quite literally are the pioneers of homes of the future.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Breastfeeding portrait a winner

I love, love, love this year’s National Portrait Gallery winner - Breech by Grimsby born Benjamin Sullivan, illustrating the artist’s wife Virginia breastfeeding their eight-month-old daughter Edith. Benjamin wanted to celebrate the love that had come into their lives and reflect on the worrying time the couple faced during Edith’s birth. Only 3-5% of mum’s experience a Breech birth so I can only imagine the anguish the couple went through at a time that is scary enough all by itself.

The broadcaster Kirsty Wark, who was on the judging panel, said: “The woman is tired. She is in love. Her life has changed for ever. We know her.” Indeed we do.

I love the way the mother is perched on the stool, naked apart from an old favourite dressing gown which has just been hurriedly hitched open to allow a demanding baby access to that source of nourishment and comfort all tiny tots crave. It is a fantastic snapshot of bittersweet reality that every human being on this planet needs to see - the extreme fatigue and yet the monumental love of a mother. And that amazing moment when a harried, overworked, slightly stricken (we’ve all felt those – ‘can we really do this?’ moments of extreme doubt) mother feels the baby’s mouth latch on and all those worries fade away into the most incredible explosion of bliss for both parties.

There is a huge problem in the UK - it has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. At three months, only 17% of mothers are breastfeeding their babies exclusively and only 1 in 200 women are breastfeeding after they reach their first birthday. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend just breast milk for six months, with breastfeeding to form part of a baby’s diet up to two years of age.

However, thankfully, things are beginning to change – there have been lots of protests, fuelled by the sensational media, against the idiots that think breastfeeding is ‘unnatural’ (Although I personally think we should just ignore these idiots completely) And we have seen lots of photographs in the media of very pretty celebrities, with full make-up and immaculate figure and clothes, breastfeeding in public. I applaud them all - but as we all know, breastfeeding certainly isn’t glam.

The thing with breastfeeding – and the wonderful painting Breech demonstrates this – is that you are a slave to your baby for the first year. The picture captures that moment so incredibly well – when you are in the middle of something else, tired and grouchy, and your baby needs you. You are in demand constantly. Tiny babies need to feed every two hours or so – and unfortunately this just does not fit in with most modern women’s routine – this Guardian article explains the crux of the problem in more detail.

I would love to see a breastfeeding revolution in my lifetime. And this year’s National Portrait Award winner takes one tiny step towards making that happen.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Watching legend Mo Farah in action at the Letzigrund

Phew, it’s been a bit hectic here lately. I’m doing a lot of catching up with my blog – and I have lots of news. Poppy had an amazing time at the Diamond League athletics championship at the Letzigrund Stadium at the end of last month. It was fab timing as it was the first Thursday in the first week back at school when everyone is usually down in the doldrums.

So on Thursday 24th August after a whole day of school Poppy headed out with just 9 other pupils and her teacher to the Letzigrund. She was so lucky to be involved. Only 8 schools in the entire Canton of Zurich were invited to take part. And just 10 pupils from those 8 schools! (The selection process was carried out on Sports Day – it was the fastest 10 from the middle school) Poppy was so excited.

The class also took part in a relay race infront of the entire audience of 20,000. Then they got to watch the event in VIP seats near the front just by the start of the race line. And to cap it all, Poppy got to see Mo Farah win his final ever track race – and when she gave him the thumbs-up, he did the Mo-Bot in return. What a complete and utter legend.

There were fireworks, drama and free burgers. She didn’t get home until 11.30pm but didn’t have to go into school the next day until after pausa (10.20am) What a fantastic experience.

Mo Farah wins his last ever 5000m track race

Friday, 1 September 2017

I feel a little political fervour coming on

I cannot ignore the bad way the UK and its politics are in and have felt compelled to use my writing skills to try and work my way through the pain I feel about the people I love and their suffering. There has been a great deal of tragedy taking place in the UK recently, with three terror attacks on Manchester and London, on top of an extreme and uneccessary period of austerity which the Tory government has inflicted on its people for far too long.

There has been a glint of hope in the form of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn which I have been campaigning vigorously for on Twitter. He achieved great things at the last General Election, unfortunately not enough to form a majority government but it feels like change is in the air and he is at the crux of it. Just before the election I wrote a poem and here it is:

Please vote for my future

I'm 10, I'm at school, I'm nobody's fool.
(Or so granny says)
I spend my days learning, my head crammed with stats,
With many a test thrown in (I've done my 7 plus SATs)

I'm not sure what's going on in the world today,
There's a president Trump and our Prime Minister's May.

I don't know about politics but it all seems a mess.
I see a world full of war and oodles of stress,
Treeless forests, our seas full of plastic,
Depression, homelessness, talk full of bombastic.
Traffic spews pollution onto the streets,
The trains are late, the future looks bleak.

Our school dinners are being taken away,
Dad's not got a proper job (or so mum says)
She's off to the food bank tonight, which I find quite perplexing,
I thought banks gave us cash, not a bag with Tex-Mex in.

My brother's got no job, he spends his days lazing around.
He has a first in maths but his £40,000 debt makes him frown.
He's depressed like aunt Lil though she had a job.
Forty years in the police but now she's a snob.

I hear there's a chance that all this could come good.
A man called Jeremy wants to be PM and I think that he should.
Blue is the colour of sadness, gloom, dejection.
Red equals joy, love, smiles and action.
We need change and we need it soon.
Please vote for my future on the 8th June.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Wimbledon time

 I am loving Wimbledon this year. Well, I love it every year but this year I have actually got to sit down and watch full matches as my daughters have grown a little older and are in school in the afternoon a little more often. I cannot remember the last time I got to watch a full blown live Wimbledon match as I used to work too back in the UK. Jeez, it was probably 25 years or so ago when I was at college! So yes, it is a pretty special Wimbledon year for me.

And I love it. I was brought up on it as a kid – my mum was tennis mad. And Wimbledon was always an occasion when we would feel particularly close together through my tricky teen years. She even knocked off work early to watch with me after school! I’m a bit gutted that we never actually went along to the holy home of tennis but anyway we watched it on the TV pretty much every day solid for two weeks. I would get home from school and join her on the sofa to avidly watch the Greats of my childhood - Jimmy Connors, Bjon Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf… the list is long and holds such exciting memories of my childhood.

And now I am in Switzerland and get to cheer on Roger Federer too! What a tennis great. And a true gentleman. And then there’s Andy Murray (a Brit!) and Nadal – (ooo those muscles…) The Swiss love to watch their tennis champs compete in the pub so I’m also enjoying the very unusual experience of watching in a tennis fan community – see last post.

So today I am made up to see Brits Andy Murray and Jo Konta go through to the quarter finals. This is a huge accomplishment as she is the first British woman to go through to the quarter finals since 1984. I loved 1984 – one of my very favourite childhood years. Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert at Wimbledon, I was 12, I felt I was coming of age – went to ‘big school’ and had lots of friends. It felt like a golden time at the movies – Ghostbusters, Karate Kid, The Terminator…so yes I will be reliving this golden year tonight in celebration of Jo Konta’s success today. I’ll be cracking open the popcorn, drinking ginger beer – can’t find Dandelion and Burdock here – and watching Karate Kid.

I would love to hear about favourite movies, tunes, moments from 1984 from any fellow 40 somethings out there – let’s celebrate together!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Swiss love of sport (and a beer)

I love how much enthusiasm the Swiss have for their sports stars and teams, whether the sport is hockey, football or tennis. And they love to enjoy a beer at the same time. So you will find them propping up the bar in the pub cheering for Federer at Wimbledon as often as you will find them cheering on the Swiss Hockey or football team in the World Cup. I find this extremely refreshing. My only experience of sport in pubs in the UK was of football.

And so it was last Friday, hubbie and I found ourselves in the pub - making the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy a beer while both daughters attended a birthday party – enjoying the match between Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray in the semi-final of the French Open.

I should have been cheering for Murray but I wasn’t. Murray annoys me somehow. I enjoy watching his skill but I don’t enjoy watching his character. He’s so serious and he gurns. And he’s Scottish of course (having a very good Scottish friend I greatly enjoy the friendly animosity these two nationalities have for each other – my friend would never cheer for an English player at Wimbledon) And for me, Wawrinka is far more watchable, in every way ;) He was rampant on Friday, trading blows with Murray and digging in his heels until the bitter end. What a game it was. He served with more potency than Murray, seven aces to one, and his defensive game has greatly improved.

I cheered along with my Swiss companions, and was over the moon when Wawrinka won, over five sets in four and a half hours. Murray heads immediately for home to prepare to defend his titles at Queen’s and Wimbledon, as well as the points that leave him unchallenged for a little while yet at the top of the world rankings.

Unfortunately the 32-year-old couldn’t grab a French Open victory by maintaining the same assault against the incredible  Rafael Nadal. He was demolished at the last post in a brutal one-sided final on Sunday – the score: 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

The triumph gave Rafael Nadal his tenth French Open title which also earned the Spaniard a 15th Grand Slam crown. His collection of Slams now stands just three behind his great Swiss rival Roger Federer.

Ever the gentleman, Wawrinka honourably praised his opponent: "There is nothing to say about today, you were too good," he admitted.
"What you are doing in tennis is unbelievable.It's always been an honour to play against you, two Grand Slam finals now, congratulations to you for your career and your team."

Monday, 15 May 2017

Swiss to vote on 'Energy Strategy 2050'

Swiss voters will have their say this Sunday (May 21st) on the government’s ‘energy strategy 2050’.

Spearheaded by Swiss president and energy minister Doris Leuthard and drawn up partly in reaction to the 2011 nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the energy strategy 2050 aims to gradually withdraw Switzerland from nuclear power and increase its use of renewable energy sources.

Under the plans no new nuclear power plants will be built in Switzerland and the five that do exist – including the world's oldest operating reactor, Beznau I – will be decommissioned at the end of their technically safe operating life.

The strategy will focus on exploiting hydropower and other renewable resources such as wind and solar power, as well as increasing energy efficiency by offering tax incentives for energy-efficient building works and tightening emissions rules for passenger vehicles.

These measures require changes to the existing energy law and the first set were approved by the Swiss parliament last September.