The Coming of the Chip

Here in Switzerland there is no socialised medical coverage. No NHS, no OHIP, no Obama Care, no nothing. We pay a small fortune every month to the private health insurance company of our choice. Basic coverage is obligatory. If you want extras (such as an ambulance or a pair of glasses from time to time) you need a second “complementary” insurance. Don’t even think about dentists.

Your paperwork must be impeccable as each insurance company employs a team of mean and picky people who find all your mistakes so they don’t have to pay.

Right now is the insurance world’s exciting pre-season. In a few weeks, the companies will announce their increased rates for next year, and you have a small window of time when you can actually change companies. This takes knowledge, organisation, motivation and luck. Musical medical chairs and loads of unpleasant telemarketing. Most of us don’t bother.

I consider myself the picture of health. Of course, I take cheap generic pills for one thing and another, but this is simply to keep my hooligan doctor happy and (as I am hugely competitive) to get good scores on my annual medical exams.

I occasionally drink water and eat fruit and vegetables and strenuously vacuum at least once a month. However, the largest medical insurance company is offering an annual rebate of 146 Swiss francs if I walk 10,000 steps every single day. To qualify and prove my devoted athleticism, I must buy a device for my wrist and send the daily results to them via my smart phone.

chip implantYou also have to buy their complementary health insurance package, and I have calculated the cost of saving 146 francs to be the following:

  • 150 francs (cost of wrist step-measuring device)
  • 146 francs (cost of sending 365 sms’s)
  • 840 francs (cost of complementary insurance coverage)

TOTAL:  1,136.00 francs and this does not even count the cost of getting your device by taxi to your grand-daughter so she can do your 10,000 steps on those days when you are actually sick.

Obviously, the next logical step is a chip implant. Straight into the jugular. That way the insurance people can see it all: the smoke, the drink, the drugs, the laziness, the grease, the sugar.

Believe me, crime (cheese fondue) and punishment (ever increasing monthly medical premiums) are just around the corner.

Warning! Geneva-Government-Sponsored Aliens Could be Hiding in Plain Sight

Well, I’ve finally got to the bottom of the matter. On a minding-my-own-business drive through the Geneva countryside recently, I noted many new signposts planted by the side of the road. Slowing down to see what was up, they all read:  Ici la nature s’épanouit grâce à moins d’entretien. Now, this can either be translated as: Here nature flourishes due to less care; or, perhaps, more to the point: Here nature will run amok if you let it.

panneau_bords_routeIt seems that a few weeks back Geneva’s Environment Minister (interestingly, he is also the Transport and Agriculture Minister) made the sustainable, durable, biodiverse decision to not cut the grass along the verges of some 257 kilometres of Geneva cantonal roads.

In these areas of High Ecological Value, the flora will be studied (by whom?) and will be treated in a bespoke, tender, individual manner. There are even some places where there will be no weed-whacking at all, so as to protect innocent animals living beside the road.

I don’t know about you, but this seems the epitome of heartlessness, as the poor little frogs will not even be able to look both ways to see clearly before they try to cross the road.

As a tax-payer, you will be pleased to learn that this non-cutting of the weeds beside the road will NOT result in an increased budget for the department.

This is all most confusing, as a few years back there were cantonal ordinances out against certain plants. There were urgent news alerts about rag-weed and thistles. I recall an inspector coming to visit my garden to make sure I wasn’t sheltering any leafy criminals. (He didn’t find them, as they hid down in the bomb shelter until he left.)

In Ontario there are still mandates out against many sorts of unwanted, invasive, exotic, adventurous, poisonous plants—Purple Loosestrife, Giant Hogweed, Garlic Mustard, the Great Scottish Thistle. If you encounter any of these monsters, you should drop everything and report the sighting to the Invading Species Hotline at an important 0-800 number.

My own little biodiverse world (my garden) is chock-a-block full of nasty invasive species: three kinds of bamboo, the box tree moth caterpillar (Glyphodes perspectalis), and many species of triffid-like strangling vines that look like they have come straight out of Ankor Wat.

Swiss universities list almost 900 non-native wild plants and animals living in Switzerland, and I’m sure they’re not ALL living at my place. So if any of these rammy foreigners try to take over the happy hippy Heidi weed campsites beside the long-haired gentle Geneva roads I do hope someone spots them and just calls Tom at: +41 (0)79 417 09 69.

He is officially there to answer all questions, and should know how to politically process a cluster of hooligan Japanese Knotweed or some perky euphorbia lathyris poking out through a cloud of fragile Swiss buttercups.

Hectic Holidays in the Alps

It used to be that a summer in the French Alps in your old farmhouse was a time of mythic tranquillity: very Pagnol with shades of Manon des Sources. Oh yes. In the old days there were really fights about water—but that’s another story.

Only the seriously un-cool used to come here to this dead-end valley on vacation: the pudgy summer-camp kids from the suburbs of Paris, the national workers spending their two-week holiday in their government-built apartments, the tall Dutchmen swinging a gallon jug of rosé from one hand and rouge from the other strolling contentedly back to their campsites.

These days, though, the place is popping and the excitement of the valley is squeezing up the mountain sides. Down at the bottom to provide evening entertainment there are many exciting choices. The Zavatta Circus is in town for three days and this year features Tarzan (the real one).  You can buy tickets at the bakery but it is, sadly, already sold out.

zavatta tarzanThere is also the Hell Drivers Show—Le Festival des Cascadeurs—with their Road Monsters – truck cabins mounted on wheels as high as the ceiling. The poster pictures show them squishing normal cars flat. As this is all taking place down in the ski-lift parking lot, I suppose the most prudent of spectators walk to the show.

During the day the mountains have become a huge open-air fitness centre. Paths are filled with members of the millennium-generation—now approaching their 40’s—that we made the mistake of raising on orange juice rather than water.

They indulge in power-walking, trailing, racing, rock-climbing, parapenting, horse riding, canyoning, and mountain biking. They carry maps in special water-proof cases, wield high-technology walking sticks, sport athletic outfits that breathe, and wear expensive shoes filled with air. They are full of beans and power-drinks and vitamins and carry water on their backs like camels. In deep-sea diver-mode they actually suck on plastic tubes while asking directions. This is extremely disconcerting as one’s mind goes back to dusty hookahs in old Istanbul cafés.

They are determined to bend the mountains to their individual will. They pass their holidays in a whirl of self-centred physical exertion and emerge at the end stronger, better, fitter–more of themselves than they were before.

They have become holiday consumers and Brave New World-like have lost the idea of the holiday as a time of looking outwards and considering a completely different world. A holiday, at its best, makes you forget yourself along with your quotidian concerns and activities. It can make huge chunks of time and organization simply disappear. It is refreshing rather than exhausting.

I did, though, see one young man, walking up alone in rather ordinary clothes with only his smart phone in his hand. He kept stopping and looking at things strangely. I realized that he might have been wandering around inside Pokémon Go. If so, he had at least found a parallel world.