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My Travels: Switzerland 2000/2001

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In April 1997 I left Kleine Scheidegg and swore that I'd never return. Although I had gained much from my time in the Swiss Alps, it had been a long hard struggle -

So what is it that brought me back here?

(This piece was written in June 2001)

For a very special photo of Kleine Scheidegg (taken from the seat of a Boeing 737) click here

February 2000 saw more changes in my life than at any other stage beforehand. Having met Ruth during my three months in America, I'd returned to England where together the two of us had settled down on the south coast. We bought a house in a bid to convince ourselves that our relationship was going to work, and kept on saying that, despite our general frustrations with life and finances, "everything will be alright next year". Home ownership was certainly an interesting experience, with all the usual delights such as a leaking washing machine on the 1st floor, a leaking shower on the ground floor and a leaking skylight in the kitchen. Oh, and of course not forgetting the concrete floor that had to be dug up due to a leaking water main.

So it was that in early 2000 we finally realised that something had to be done. We weren't happy scrimping to pay the mortgage and I loathed my factory job. My dreams of travel that I had tried to suppress since returning to England were re-emerging, whilst Ruth's career within management at the local cinema was going from strength to strength. Our dreams were simply not compatible, and so we decided to split up and return to being "just good friends" as we had briefly been almost three years previously.

This was a very difficult time, and I knew that in order to breathe we both needed space. Also, I was longing to get on the road again, and so within a month I had left my job, my girlfriend, my house, my friends and family, and exchanged it for an organic Wwoof farm in the valleys of central Switzerland.

Fredi the Farmer
Chloersterli, my Swiss farm retreat

Fredi and Antonia (the farmers) became second parents to me for that time, listening as I rambled on about all that had gone before and offering advice and help where they could. An additional part of my therapy was the training in the use of dangerous farm machinery. That "little boy" part of my character that was fascinated with big machines has never left me, and so I found it quite difficult to disguise my desire to get in the driving seat and play like a little kid. The first toy I was let loose on was the hydraulic crane suspended from the roof of the hay loft - this ran the length of the vast traditional Swiss barn on a set of wheels that ran on a pair of rails. The barn was long enough to get up quite a bit of speed. but you had to be careful otherwise you'd end up shooting off the end of the rails, through the barn wall and landing on the adjacent road. One also had to be careful when turning 180 degrees due to the relatively narrow nature of the barn. I had many close misses when attempting to carry out this manoeuvre as the clawed hay-hand on the end of the long arm was pretty big - one false jolt on the controls and you'd punch out a new skylight! Running alongside the crane's rails was a telescopic pipe, about 40cm in diameter. This was attached to a huge vacuum cleaner contraption and the entire setup was linked to a small computer. As Fredi brought in the hay so it was my job to fork it towards the mouth of this monster. Via the computer-controlled telescopic pipe it was then distributed evenly over the entire loft - I was warned not to get too close, as it was not unheard of for people to get sucked up too.

Naturally, the other pieces of machinery that I loved were the tractors. One of the two was an old English model, painted crimson red just like in my childhood books. That was the best - careering along the Swiss slopes in 3rd gear (being so old it didn't have the 32 speed gearbox that the other tractor did), sun shining, green meadows, car coming the other way.!

When the hay had been cut and gathered it was time to spread cow shit over the fields. Unfortunately as I took the wheel of the tractor the wind picked up. That day was not the most pleasant as every time I turned with the wind I had a healthy dose of slurry sprayed into my face. Two months down the line I felt re-born. I'd spent eight weeks shovelling cow-poo and making hay; in return I'd regained a happy heart and a determination to make the most of my life.

Voluntary work is all very well - until you run out of money for stamps for all those letters - and that's exactly what happened to me. I had no intention of returning to the UK (after all, I'd just gained my freedom!) and so in my desperation for paid employment I sent a fax to the Scheidegg Hotel where I'd worked 3 years previously. To my relief, following a short telephone interview I was given the job. The way it goes is, if you've worked here before and haven't been sacked then you're pretty much guaranteed a job - it's tough at the top (of the mountain!).


I remember the day I returned. sitting on the train feeling sick with fear as the hotel came into view. What on Earth had I been thinking to go back to a place that had treated me so roughly in the past? However, I was soon to discover that there had been changes afoot. The previous owner, Heidi von Almen who'd been in control for the past fifty years had finally sold it to her nephew, Andreas von Almen and his wife Silvia. This young couple were much more welcoming and I have found that they care for their staff a great deal more. One of the first changes that I noticed upon arrival was to the dungeon where we used to eat our meals. Windowless, smoky and half taken up with a noisy old freezer, this room had now been converted into a drinks cellar. These days the personnel room has a large window overlooking the beautiful Grindelwald valley, tasteful lighting and table surfaces that aren't full of holes filled with 10-year-old Swiss cheese. Also, we're now allowed to use hot water (in 1996 it was too expensive - the taps were removed).

The Hotel Bellevue
View of Kleine Scheidegg from the hotel
The first summer I spent at Kleine Scheidegg was magic. I was very fortunate in that I had some lovely colleagues. Much time was spent walking the beautiful trails of which there are many in the area or perhaps relaxing on the mountain slopes as the sun set with a cool beer in hand. My self-confidence returned once more as I appreciated that I wasn't the complete failure that I'd felt to be in the past. I regained my reputation for being the Scheidegg Village Idiot as I disregarded any judgemental views from those around me. The day I'd left England I had changed my name back to Joseph (since the age of eight I'd been known as "Joe"), and I truly felt like a different person. Looking back, it seems that Joe was always wearing a mask, trying to prove something to someone even if they didn't know it. Joseph however is a free spirit, and a very happy one at that.

My main reason for being here is not the money; it is the space that enables me to be myself. The money is of course a nice bonus, as is the complete lack of responsibilty.

Over the summer months I became increasingly fascinated with our seemingly forever happy and polite Japanese tourists, and thus it was that I made the decision to journey to the Asian islands for my seven-week break between seasons.

Japan was fantastic; I just had the best time ever. Returning to Scheidegg in early December was a little difficult as I missed my newfound friends in Tokyo, Osaka and those on the island of Hokkaido. Still, I knew that I was free to return anytime I wished; no one would rob me of my freedom now.

A review of our hotel

As is usually the case up here, Christmas and New Year were an absolute nightmare. Many hours work and little rest - no chance of a party either. However, with previous experience I knew that the blues would pass, and so they did. Unfortunately they were replaced with a rather depressing air of boredom, the team here lacked the spark of the previous season. No one in particular was to blame; it was just the way it turned out. We did however make a smash-hit record, and we did venture down the mountain quite a bit, Wengen (our local village) being the destination. There we'd spend copious amounts of money in the familiar bars and the atrocious clubs (with their "Special DJs"), before trying to find somewhere to spend the night for free. Our French contact didn't know what had hit her as we piled into her one room apartment, breaking her bed with the weight of all the beer we'd consumed. In the morning we'd have to be up at a ridiculous hour to catch a train back to our hotel for the start of work, which would pass painfully slowly as we longed to crash out.

Yes, I do still dance like a monkey
The crew on the terrace

Fortunately, in February 2001 I broke my collarbone in a skiing accident. On Doctor's orders I was granted almost two months paid leave. Rather than return to rainy old England where foot & mouth was soon to take a grip, I opted to buy an Interail ticket - valid in about thirty European countries for the period of one month. With that I went on a little adventure visiting friends and family in France, England, Germany and Italy, passing through Belgium, Austria, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. I even got as far as Istanbul - a place unlike any other I've visited so far.

In March it was back to work. Since then I have been busy building my website and reflecting upon the changes in my life that have occurred over the past year. It's been quite remarkable really. I feel so much happier and healthier now I am living every day for the day, and doing exactly as I wish. I'm not a waiter, I just pretend. Really, I'm an ordinary person living as close to my beliefs and ideals as possible. It seems to be working though - I have a smile upon my face and so do those around me.

Oh, by the way, I'm leaving here on September 14th 2001 and I probably won't be returning. My reason is that I feel I will have learned as much as I can from this place by then. Mind you, that's what I said last time...

Joseph Tame

June 2001

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