The French have a reputation. There is this notion that they are terrible drivers. Terrible, awful drivers. I wish to state for the record that this is not the case – but only if you exclude Paris.
The Parisians, they of impatience, bluster and hooting, drag down the whole country. Douglas Adams once wrote that the shortest unit of time in the universe is the duration between the traffic light going green and the New York taxi driver behind you hooting his horn. I’d argue that it is actually the duration between you putting a foot on the Champs-Élysées and death.
However, once out on the AutoRoute and skittering along at 130km/h, there’s nothing wrong. They are orderly, well behaved, let you out, let you in and don’t seem to mind that you’re British. It’s almost as if the 100 Years’ War never happened.
All of this changes once you cross the border into Switzerland.
In Basel, you are swept into an impressive tunnel/bridge/tunnel system that sweeps you under the city, clipping Germany and then into the depths of Switzerland proper with barely a whiff of congestion. It is then that something dawns on you. The Swiss are insane.
If you were to take the vehicular nightmare of Paris and stretch it over an entire country, you would end up with Switzerland’s road network. I have never felt so edgy and unsafe in congested traffic than I did there.
Switzerland, despite the mentally unhinged lunatics on the roads, is staggering to behold. It is unapologetically picturesque. Astoundingly so. Roads curve and wind precariously over, around and through mountains, forests, glacial plains, medieval towns, modern architecture, crystal-blue seas, and the Alps.
Golden Leaves Con was the target. The road up from the lake to the venue was precarious, beautiful and spoiled only by my delightful other half shrieking that we were about to die at every corner. I do not drive that fast and the roads were clear. And there weren’t any other insane Swiss drivers around to be driven off the edge by. However, at many points during the uphill wind, the road had no crash barriers, so if you went off the edge, death was sure to follow.
Suicidal Adventures in Fursuits
Nestled on the side of a valley overlooking the Alps, and not far out of Thun, the wooden youth hostel building had the most spectacular view I had ever seen. From the front of the building, you could see all the way down the hill, across the lake, and up into the Alps. Our bedroom was on the rear. The view was a tree, a fence and the back of some cars.
After we had made the obvious jokes about Heidi, Swiss accents, and Nazi gold, we dumped our luggage in our room, flopped out in the main room and had a lovely soup. At this point I let my parents know we had arrived safely.
Then, it started snowing.
At GLC, there is a tradition of taking the fursuiters out for a late night walk. Enchanting tales of lamp lit processions of anthropomorphic animals winding through the Swiss landscape sounded magical and ethereal. I was positively thrumming with excitement.
As with all conventions, GLC very quickly found its stride with Convention Standard Time. This peculiar time zone exists in a existentially dubious state somewhere between ten and 45 minutes behind where you think you should be and almost certainly five minutes before the point where you attempted to second guess it.
With the snow flurries covering the ground in a neat, white blanket, and the organiser of the walk still woefully under-prepared and under-dressed, I had that sinking feeling that this was going to be a disaster.
33 minutes later and immediately after a headcount wasn’t taken, oil lanterns were handed to the fursuiters and we slowly headed towards the start of the route. In darkness. Uphill.
Let’s consider the madness of this: A fursuiter could be classified as T38 and T13 in the Paralympics. Imagine encouraging a partially sighted person with a limited field of view and impaired physical mobility up a wet, slippery slope in the darkness, giving them a lantern on a stick that doesn’t project light downwards. Then, as the snow continues to fall, guide them single-file through a muddy track in a forest, and down on to a winding road. You wouldn’t do it, you really wouldn’t do it. Not unless you really didn’t like disabled people.
Madness. Utter madness. I’m amazed no-one went missing. Maybe they did. We wouldn’t know because they didn’t do a headcount.
Halfway around, we bailed: it was too dark, cold, wet, slippery and crazy. We walked back along the road as the snow picked up, headed back to the venue and warmed ourselves up.
Fluid Dynamics and Hillsides
The next morning we woke early, devoured breakfast and then performed what was would become far and away the most enduring memory of the weekend: We sat in an outdoor heated pool.
Snow was on the ground, the air was bloody cold, and I could use my nipples to cut glass. A career as a jewel thief was briefly considered until the pleasure of sinking into a hot pool enveloped every single nerve in my body and told me I was in heaven. The British had invaded the pool and by gosh it was marvellous.
The pool had a couple of problems. The first was that it was a little smaller than was needed – feet tangled in the middle. The second issue was to do with placing a pool on a slope. At times, it did feel a little like that whole thing was going to eventually give in to gravity and slide like a warm toboggan down to the base of the mountain. Death was never too far away on this trip.
Once you’d put out of your mind the fear of an impromptu and involuntary journey across the Swiss countryside, the pool was invigorating, relaxing and exactly what we needed. Except for a third issue. There was a certain Austrian fellow that occupied the pool with us that morning that had personal space problems.
At a furry convention, it is pretty much normal to have your personal space interrupted once in a while by someone you don’t know, don’t like or don’t understand. This is mostly offset by the fact that you’re having a good time. That balance is somewhat adjusted when that individual is wearing an impossibly small purple speedo. Alarm bells, ringing violently, exploded into metal shrapnel in my mind as I received a highly unwelcome foot rub from this person.
The pool lost some of its appeal at that point and I shivered my way back indoors, showered, scrubbed the unhappy away and then showered again. Once I felt clean, I dressed, mooched myself back downstairs and spent a rather pleasant afternoon in the company of friends.
Now that I look back on the weekend there, I find that GLC itself was not anything in particular if you didn’t speak German. Events, especially the PawPet show, were geared towards the native tongue, and I can’t claim to be complaining because GLC was the single-most relaxed I’ve been at a convention in a long, long time – not only was there nothing really to do except chat, read, eat, drink, melt in the pool or go for walks, but there was no expectation on me to do anything whatsoever.
In fact, we spent a ridiculous amount of time putting together a thousand piece jigsaw. We were all utterly absorbed.
We Don’t do Fondue
We were well catered for at GLC – with generous portions and a feeding schedule that operated, as expected, on Convention Standard Time. Along with the delightful menu, there was a fully stocked fursuit lounge with a secret supply of Haribo, as many soft drinks as you could consume without suffering from diabetic shock and a wealth of new and interesting people to shout ‘putain’ at during mealtimes (whenever they were).
The only complaint I had about the culinary experience will single me out as Ze Disrespectful Englischer: Fondue. Or, as we dubbed it, Fondon’t.
We, the British, have a reputation for having bland food and a dull palate. This is completely wrong, we have home-grown delights like Yorkshire Pudding, Bangers & Mash, Chicken Tikka Masala, Turkey Twizzlers, and the Pièce de résistance: Micro Chips. All of these dishes are hearty, vibrant, modern meals good for all low-earning families that are scrounging off the state.
However cultured and developed the British palate is, Fondue struck something of a chord with us. One November night in Switzerland, a table full of linguistically challenged furs indignantly turned their collective noses up at the horrifying pots of bubbling hatred that adorned the table. Viewed from above, it must have looked a bit like the world’s slowest game of air hockey – with each person at the long table not wanting the vile cauldrons anywhere near their nostrils.
Things to do on holiday in Switzerland: claim the national dish smells like unwashed genitals.
— Twll (@twll) November 15, 2013
Everyone else in the hall was happily inserting the cheesy substance into their hungry maws and when an alternative was presented, we as one entity stood, marched to the kitchen with bowls at the ready and gladly accepted our runner-up-prize of pasta.
Once consumed, we made a break for it, for the overpowering pong of pungent scrotum that is the hallmark of Fondue was simply too much to bear. That night, we hid in a little room and drank, chatted and hid from the poison below stairs.
A Vat of Genital Scrapings
That night the other attendees soaked away their over-full bellies in the heated pool, leaving a rather problematic situation. What was once a wonderful escape from the troubles of world became the most foul-smelling water container I’d ever encountered.
All the fondue had seeped out of the attendees and into the water, leaving it smelling somewhat of a gentleman’s undercarriage on a humid day. Sadly, this smell didn’t immediately hit you – after you’d peeled off every item of clothing you didn’t need to be in the water, tiptoed across the frozen ground and slipped into the pleasantly heated pool, it slowly insinuated itself into your nose.
It crept like a whiffy tumour up your nasal passages and into your brain, where it very quietly said: “You remember that time the dog vomited in the car on the way to Devon? I think you can smell that right now. Oh, and by the way, that smell is now on you. You smell like dog vomit. Yes, you”.
Not cool. Really not cool. I couldn’t take it. I shivered my way back indoors once more, showered, scrubbed the unhappy away and then showered again just to make sure I didn’t smell like cheesy effluent. The pool had somewhat lost its lustre.
When is the Group Photoshooting Again?
At some point, we all went mad.
I think the moment was when we heard that the group photo-shoot would be in an hour. A few minutes later, a staff member walked past the table and mentioned that it would be in an hour. Then someone else walked past and mentioned clearly that it would be in just under an hour. A few more minutes passed and then we were politely informed that the group photo-shoot would be in forty-five minutes and that we should not forget.
Not everyone was up, it had been a late night for a lot of people, so it would be a fairly empty looking photograph if they didn’t let everyone know. Sadly, it seemed they were only letting us know. Or maybe that’s just the madness talking. A few minutes later, we overheard someone mention that the group photo would be in half an hour. Time became fairly liquid as we started to giggle at the absurdity of how much we were being reminded to be punctual.
There was a double irony at work here: the first one is Switzerland is home to some of the finest clockmakers in the world and prides itself on always being exactly on time with everything and secondly, that the rest of the convention had hardly been what you might consider to be punctual. Why aim to be so prompt with the photo-shoot? (Which, we were reliably informed, was but 15 minutes away).
I decided to head upstairs to rouse the rest of the Brits – fearing that if we didn’t after such an imperative assertion that we simply should not be late for it, we might all be rounded up and executed at gunpoint. As I opened the door to the room, the Tannoy kicked in and announced “ze group photoschooting vill be in five minuten outzide ze front of ze building. You are advized to be zere for the group photo if you vish to be in ze group photoshooting” there then followed a stream of high-speed, incomprehensible German which was entirely drowned out by the sound of me heaving with manic laughter.
About a good third of the attendees didn’t rouse themselves for the photo. We stood outside in the gently thawing snow and, without any acknowledgement of the irony, waited for the late photographer to take our photo.
On the morning of our departure, we really didn’t want to leave the quiet serenity of the Swiss Alps, the snow-covered roofs or the wonderful shimmering visage of Lake Thun below. And neither did the car, which, after sitting around for four nights covered in snow, decided that the battery was completely flat and spluttered itself reluctantly to life.
It did, as a two-fingers up to the notion of leaving, fart out a cubic metre of foul black smoke and made the entire entranceway of the building reek of diesel.
Still, at least it wasn’t as bad a smell as fondue.
GLC: You should probably go.