Gerry’s Diary 168: Man in the garage, how to pay for food, panda on the beach (29th January, 2016)

Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 29th January 2016. Please excuse my voice: I was ill last week. I hope this new year started well for all of you. The weather here over Christmas and the New Year continued to be bad. I’ve never seen so much rain as we had on December 26th, and during the night of Storm “Frank” I couldn’t sleep. The wind was so loud – all night long. December 2015 was the wettest and warmest December in recent history. Things changed at last halfway through January, and the weather became quieter and colder. The mountains are covered in snow at the moment, and one night there was ice on the pond [1].

So, on today’s show, I’ve got a fantastic story from one of my wife’s friends. Then I noticed a possible difference between British and Swiss restaurant culture. And there was Owen’s Christmas present… but first, the pub quiz.


My last pub quiz question was about January 25th. What do some people in the UK celebrate on January 25th? Well, congratulations to Margrit, Sister Raphaela, Doris and Armin, who all knew the answer. And thanks to everybody else [2] who wrote with messages after the last show. January 25th is Burns Night. It’s the night that the Scots and fans of Robert Burns [3] around the world celebrate the famous Scottish poet. January 25th was his birthday, and Burns Night is the biggest national celebration in Scotland – bigger than St Andrew’s Day (on November 30th), which is the official national day. If you go to a Burns Night you will hear bagpipes [4] and poetry, you will drink a lot of whisky and you will eat haggis. Haggis is a sort of big sausage. It’s made with the heart, liver [5] and lungs [6] of a sheep. It doesn’t sound too good, but it’s tasty [7] – in my opinion. As I said, it’s really a kind of sausage but we call it a pudding. French speakers call it a “boudin” – “boudin” / pudding, the same word really. Robert Burns wrote mostly in Scots, which is one of the languages or dialects of Scotland. He wrote a poem about haggis and at the Burns Dinner somebody recites [8] this poem about the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race” before people eat the haggis. And at the beginning of the evening somebody says the following “grace” (or prayer before eating):
“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.”
That means that some people have food but they cannot eat, and some need to eat but have no food, but we have food and we can eat, so let us thank God.


When I heard the following story, I said: “It can’t be true. It’s from a film or something.” But it’s a true story. So let me tell it to you, and you can decide if you can believe it.

It came from one of my wife’s friends. My wife has different groups of friends. There’s her book group: they read books together and meet in the pub to talk about them. Then there’s her cards group: this group meets to play cards. And, finally, there’s her sewing [9] group: this is a group of ladies who meet every two weeks or so in one of their houses. They bring their sewing or their knitting [10]; they talk about their sewing or knitting projects; they help each other; they drink coffee, eat cake, have lunch, eat more cake; and they talk. And this story came from one of the ladies in the sewing group. Her name’s Judy and she lives in a little village in the middle of the island. Her story went something like this:

“Well, I must tell you about what happened yesterday. You know that Nigel and the kids like kayaking, right? [Nigel is this lady’s husband. Their children are all students in England now.] Well, we have an old garage next to the house where we keep the kayaks and the paddles [11] and the wetsuits [12] and all that stuff [13]. Well, I was at home alone with the dog. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon. I went to the front door to look at the weather. Was it good enough to go out with the dog? So I was standing there at the front door when I heard a noise from the garage next to the house. ‘What was that?’ I thought. It was a quiet day. No wind. Then there were more noises coming from the garage. What was it? So I got the dog. No help really, but she can bark [14] a bit. I walked to the garage, and listened. Somebody or something was in there.”

At this point, all the sewing and the knitting stopped. Somebody asked: “Weren’t you frightened?” “Didn’t you call the police?” Judy continued:

“No, I wasn’t really frightened. I know everybody in the village. It’s so quiet where we live. But I had no idea who or what was in our garage. The door wasn’t locked [15]. It’s never locked, actually. The lock’s broken. So I decided to open the door very quickly to surprise the person or animal in there. I got hold of [16] the handle [17] of the door and I quickly threw it open. The light from the winter sun shone into the garage like a spotlight [18]. And what did I see? A naked [19] man standing on one leg!”

“Ooh,” said the other ladies. “Really? What was he doing?” Judy answered:

“He was trying to put on one of our wetsuits, but he was having problems. He was a bit too fat. When I opened the door and he saw me, he shouted: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Don’t be afraid. Don’t call the police. I can explain.’ Actually, I wasn’t afraid. A fat, middle-aged man with no clothes on, with one foot in a wetsuit is not very frightening. I had just two questions. ‘Why are you putting on a wetsuit here? We’re not by the sea here. And why are you naked? Perhaps you should explain.’ I recognized the man now. I didn’t really know him but he lived on the other side of the village. So what was his story? ‘It’s a bit embarrassing [20],’ he said. ‘I was with Gwyneth, your neighbour down the road. We first got together [21] on New Year’s Eve. We like each other, you know. Anyway we were both free this afternoon so I went round to see her. We were in bed, and then her husband came home. I don’t why. He should be at work. Anyway I had to rush out the back of the house. I had no time to get my clothes. So there I was: in Gwyneth’s back garden, naked. I had to move so I came into your garden, and I saw your garage. I thought, perhaps they’ve got some gardening clothes in there, or something. Anyway I found the wetsuits. I just wanted to borrow one to get home.’ ‘But don’t you think,’ I said, ‘people will look at you in a wetsuit in the middle of the village on a Wednesday afternoon and ask why?’ ‘Perhaps,’ he said, ‘but they would ask more questions if I was naked.’ So I let him borrow the wetsuit. I’m just waiting to hear the gossip [22] in the post office [23] next week!”


In November last year I was in Switzerland for a short holiday with the son who lives there. One night we were in a small restaurant and there was an English family there. They finished their meal and wanted to pay the bill. The father went to the bar of the restaurant to ask for the bill and to pay. And the rest of the family, the mother and the children, followed him to the bar to wait while he paid. This is quite normal in Britain, but perhaps not in Switzerland. I think Swiss people usually pay at the table. Why do the British do this, I wondered. It’s a modern habit, I think. So here are some possible reasons. People don’t like to give their credit cards to a waiter. But these days this is not really a problem. Waiters have mobile card readers. A second possible reason is that the person who wants to pay wants to check the bill privately. If there’s a problem they don’t want to talk about it in front of the other people. Sometimes, the person who’s paying doesn’t want to argue with the other people about paying. Remember that in Britain, it’s polite to argue about invitations: “I’d like to pay.” – “No, no, no, no, let me.” – “No, no, please, I insist. Please, please…” Etc, etc. Swiss people don’t usually argue about invitations [24], and they often divide the bill. That’s not usual in Britain. There may be many reasons why the British like to leave the table to pay, but the Swiss waiter in this restaurant didn’t seem to like it. One reason was because the English family were blocking the way to the kitchen for the other waiters.


Now here’s your new pub quiz question. Two old people, who are still working, have big birthdays this summer. The woman will have her ninetieth birthday and her husband will be 95. So who are these famous and busy old people?

20160129 E PandaIt’s nearly the end of the show, but I have to tell you about the highlight of our Christmas. It came from Owen in China, Owen the Wandering Son. He sent a present for his little niece, Lulu, who was with us for two weeks over Christmas. He sent her a panda suit. It’s a very warm coat in fact, but when we went out with Lulu in her panda suit for a walk on the beach, she really looked like a little panda. Lots of people came up to say hello. Dogs were very interested – and sometimes a bit frightened! It was a bit like Paddington Bear – we looked like the Brown family in the Paddington Bear stories: a family with a small bear, Lulu Panda. I’ve put a photo on the website.

Then, Margrit wrote to me after the last show and asked about the music project with the Romansh choir in Chur and the chamber orchestra here in North Wales. (I spoke about it in Diary 158.) No news yet but I hope that we’ll hear the new piece of music later this year.

Don’t forget to write to me with your answer to the pub quiz on the website, or you can use Twitter. My Twitter address is @gerrypod. I’ll be back on February 26th. Until then thanks for listening and take care!

[1] pond: here: small piece of water in a garden
[2] everybody else: all the other people
[3] Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scottish poet who wrote Auld Lang Syne (the song we sing at midnight on December 31st), My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose and many other poems
[4] bagpipes: a musical instrument, played in Scotland but also in Ireland and other Celtic countries (Scottish military bands play bagpipes and drums.)
[5] liver: the part of the body that cleans the blood
[6] lungs: the part of the body that holds the air that an animal breathes in
[7] tasty: delicious (it tastes good!)
[8] to recite: to say (a poem) aloud (usually without having to reading it)
[9] to sew: to make or repair clothes (or other things made out of cloth) using a needle and thread (NB The Swiss company Bernina make very good machines to help you do this!)
[10] to knit: to make clothes (or other things) out of wool (or sometimes cotton, etc.) using two big needles
[11] paddle: piece of wood (or plastic) that you use to move a kayak through the water
[12] wetsuit: special clothes (made out of a sort of rubber) that you use for water sports such as scuba diving and kayaking (The clothes keep you warm and dry in the water.)
[13] stuff: things
[14] to bark: to make the noise that a dog makes
[15] to lock: to shut a door so that you cannot open it from outside (except with a key)
[16] to get hold of: to catch, to take in your hand
[17] handle: the part of something that you hold (for example the part of a door that opens it, or the part of a case that you hold to carry it)
[18] spotlight: a strong light that shines on something small (for example, a light in a theatre that shines on just one person)
[19] naked: wearing no clothes (NB This word has two syllables!)
[20] to embarrass: to make (somebody) feel ashamed or stupid
[21] to get together: to meet (here: probably more than to meet, probably to become a couple, to start a relationship)
[22] gossip: stories about other people (especially about their private lives)
[23] post office: NB If a village here still has a post office it’s usually a shop with a post office at the back, so it’s often the only shop in the village: the place where people meet, therefore.
[24] NB After recording this, I realise I need to talk next time about the words “invite/invitation”. They are used a little differently in Switzerland and Britain.


Noëlle 13-02-2016 15:47
Good afternoon Gerry,
I discovered your podcasts last year and have already heard and read several of them. They are really interesting and I've learned a lot about your country and its habits, in a very pleasant way. Thank you very much !
I'm looking forward to reading from you
Best regards
Käthi 07-02-2016 14:59
Hi Gerry
On April 21th, the Queen will celebrate her ninetieth birthday. It seems there will be a parade with military honours in London. In fact, nothing special in this cas ! But one thing it's onbelievable and truly amazing for me: A goat - his name is Llywelyn - is invited to participate in this parade!!! It's the Royal Welsh Regiment's goat. I read an article about this story and I found it really crazy.
Perhaps you can tell us more about this so british tradition.
Best wishes,
Käthi 31-01-2016 12:19
Hi Gerry!
"Lulu Panda" looks very lovely - really ! I'm sure that her grand-parents had been very proud and happy to go for a work with this bear.
Best regards from the Romandie
Ruth 31-01-2016 12:05
Dear Gerry
Your podcast was once more amusing and interesting as usual and I hope you’ve recovered from your bad cold. The influenza has reached Switzerland too and all hope not to get sick. The story you’ve told about the garage is really remarkable and for me unimaginable. How can a man run out naked in a strange property?
When I read the ingredients from the Haggis I noticed it was exactly the same we had in my childhood but not as sausage, it was fried in a different way as a main course with plenty of sauce and potatoes. Today I wouldn’t eat that!
The picture with Lulu as a panda on the beach looks so lovely.

I wish you a good time and I’m looking forward to hear from you.
Sr. Raphaela 29-01-2016 09:56
Hi Gerry
Thanks for your new interesting podcast. I hope your’re feeling better than the week before! Take care of your health!
The quiz’s answer can only be; The Queen of England is going to celebrate her 90th birthday in April this year – and her husband Prince Philip his 95th in June 2016!
I’m looking forward to your next podcast!
Greetings from Switzerland Sr. Raphaela