Thursday, 17 June 2010

hop suisse

So today was a good day.

No, not a good day; a great day. A day that started with me getting up at 5.15am.

To travel to Victoria station in a cab.

To travel to Gatwick by train.

To travel to Geneva by plane.

To travel to Villeneuve by train.

To meet Jane.

And on the train to meet Jane, I heard an American say: “The thing about the British is that they pay their bills. Because that’s what they’ve always done. Not like on the continent. So it’s time to get out.”

“How interesting,” I thought. And true. We do pay our bills. I’m just not sure which continent he was talking about; or where (or what) he was getting out of.

I wanted to ask him. But he got out. At Lausanne.

Not like me.

I was going all the way. To Villeneuve. On the train to meet Jane.

Which is why I happened to spend most of today in Switzerland. Today of all days.

The day the Swiss surprised the world (especially the Spanish) by beating l’Espagnols 1-0 in their opening game in the World Cup. An extraordinary result on an extraordinary day.

I got to sit in a lakeside café in Villeneuve and watch the second half of the match with the locals, most of them elderly.

At half-time it was 0-0.

“Oh good” I thought. I’ll get to see the brilliant and much fancied Spanish team come good in the second half and tear into their civilised opposition. And just in case I needed any other reason for watching, Howard Webb, the English referee was in charge.

And so, the game unfolded. The Swiss went off script. An attack. A Swiss attack. And more than that… A goal! They’ve only gone and scored. The Swiss have scored against Spain!

The whole café erupted as one.

Well… almost.

What actually happened was that some of the old ladies actually looked up at the screen. But the four young guys (one of them in a Spanish colours) almost got up from their seats. I was less contained. It was too much for me.

The World Cup had suddenly burst into life and I totally forgot myself. Enthralled by the possibilities of an upset and (like a true Englishman) instinctively responding to the fate of the underdog, I carefull put down my café au lait and clapped.

Three times I think.

Might have been twice.

Then, as I realised I was being (relatively) rowdy, I suddenly remembered where I was and stopped clapping. I looked around and some of the old people were clearly glad I’d stopped.

Feeling slightly chastised, I regained my sense of logic. Surely (I thought), Spain would now be stung into a sense of revolt. Now they’d assert their superior skill, unleash their thrilling best and quench all thoughts of a giant-killing on their way to finally winning the World Cup…

But no.

The Swiss – against all the odds - held on.

In fact, they not only held on, they pushed again, coming close even to a second goal.

Audacious fellows!

And as time went on – as it does in football games, inexorably and at random intervals: 63 minutes, 71 minutes, 84 minutes - the atmosphere in the café changed.

More old people came in. Older people than before I mean. Really old people now. And the slightly less old people (who’d already had lunch) started ordering hot chocolates and ice . “God knows how this tension will end!” I thought. Quietly. To myself.

The Spaniards lashed out and hit the bar. (The footballers I mean, not the people in the café.

But the Swiss guard packed the penalty area, determined to hold their defence strong against the rampant Mediterranean onslaught…

They were so nearly there. I felt myself getting incredibly excited.

But it was no longer enough to be in Switzerland. Now I wanted to be Swiss.

But I’m not Swiss. I’m English. And so is Howard Webb the referee, who boldly added a gigantic FIVE minutes injury time to the game.

This didn’t go down well with the café. (I didn’t look around but I felt sure I was being cast disapproving looks. A big bill was coming my way; for my café au lait.

But however high the cost it was a bill that would be paid. (The American was right.)

Now surely the Spaniards would penetrate…

But no.

They could not, would not penetrate.

The final whistle blew. The cafe exploded. (One guy stood up and cheered.) Some of the old people smiled at each other. And got up to leave.

I drank up my coffee, left a healthy tip and walked out into the street to brave the drizzle.

And as I walked… the streets began to change. Switzerland began to change. A small (wealthy) country had taken on a big (poor) country and won.

The silence was broken by old ladies happily giving me directions whilst drivers illegally honked their way through the town. The grey light became a perfect background for the bright red-crossed flags, casually draped on young shoulders.

This had suddenly become a big day in Villeneuve. And a great day in Switzerland.

And I was there - by chance - on this great day.

But all this triumph was not what made my day was great.

My day was made great because of Jane. And the conversation we had.

But that’s for another time. Another time soon.

For now – to mark this special day, I now have a red lighter in my pocket that bears the same two words as a hand written placard I saw in the crowd…

Hop Suisse.

It might mean: “Hop you Swiss! Leap to previously unleapt heights.”

Personally, after being with the Swiss today, and an English woman who’s discovered much about herself and was kind enough to share some of her experiences with me…

I think maybe a vowel has gone missing.

I do hop so.

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