Of men and merit

Landschlacht, 9 January 2016

It is 0430 in the morning and in an hour´s time I shall dash off to the station, grab a train to St. Gallen and once again assist the world´s largest coffeehouse increase its profit margin.

The past few days I have had travels and discussions and thoughts about what is value and what is not.

I consider my own life.

I have been invited to a wedding in Turkey in September.

I would really like to go.

The wife ponders whether my motivation is to attend this gathering or to play tourist in a foreign land.

It is a legitimate question, for she is asking what it is that I value.

My friends´wedding?

The experience of travel?

And what value do I place on the income we must generate to make this journey possible?

I think of my little village of Landschlacht.

I have lived here for five years and in this time I have seen three incarnations of our local general store.

At the end of this month this third incarnation will cease to be.

Why can´t a store survive here?

Does Landschlacht value having a store in the community or is it simpler to ignore it, hop in a car and shop somewhere else where there is more of a selection to choose from?

For that matter, why do so many Swiss shop over the border instead of shopping in Switzerland?

Do they value their own personal savings over their own national economy?

Winterthur, 8 January 2015

My first day of teaching in months begins today.

The train journey is in two stages: Landschlacht to Romanshorn, Romanshorn to Winterthur.

On second train, a couple of exotic origins boards the train in Frauenfeld, accompanied by so much luggage that it blocks both doors of the wagon entry way:

Adam Kerr's photo.

The reaction of the train personnel as well as my fellow passengers is both amusing and revealing.

Clearly this couple felt that they could not travel without bringing all this stuff, yet simultaneously their concept of value is questionable as they left all of their possessions between the wagon doors and sit  in the passenger seats upstairs.

The conductors are exasperated.

Passengers are annoyed at having to climb over all this luggage just to get in or out of the train.

As I too climb over and manuever myself around this artificial mountain of baggage to exit in Winterthur, I can´t help but wonder at the mind set of this couple.

Where is their final destination?

Why do they feel the need to bring so much stuff?

Are they moving house or simply unable to travel light?

Why is all this stuff so valuable that they must bring it with them?

Should they be envied or pitied?

Landschlacht, 9 January 2016 (1700 hours)

I have returned home after working at Starbucks St. Gallen Marktplatz and as I return to this blogpost I can´t help but smile.

On the 0530 train to St. Gallen, using my newfangled Smartphone, (it was predawn so I didn´t feel guilty about not looking up), I posted the following on Facebook:

“On the road to St Gallen and work.

Up at 4, blogging by 430.

Meant to save incomplete blog but instead accidentally sent it as is to the “world”.

Am left with two conclusions:

I am not so smart with technology…

…and writing a blog at 430 in the morning might not be the best of ideas!”

I have to smile when I read this, because sometimes I devote hundreds of words to record my thoughts and observations and no one responds.

Today I wrote very little (less than 500 words) and 10 people responded favourably!

This tells me one of two things:

Either people are simply glad when I stop writing(!)…

…or maybe I am a better writer than I thought and need less words to make an impact then I imagined?

Winterthur, 8 January 2016

First day of teaching at English Downtown and I quickly find myself swimming dangerous waters…

Adam Kerr's photo.

My two private students, homemakers simply wishing to improve their English for fun, are not linguistically strong enough to handle the material I brought today.

The hour was spent trying to show these overwhelmed homemakers that I could provide them value for their money and that the expense of private education was worth the investment of money and time.

This inability to understand my material was a shame, because I think had their reading skills been stronger they might have enjoyed the article I had brought in.

Denis Horgan, of the Hartford Courant, back in the 1990s, wrote an opinion piece called “Something Wrong with my Eyes”.

Horgan suggested that despite all the important, hopeful changes that were occurring then in the United States, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite the federal budget being nearly balanced, despite low unemployment, despite all these positive facts, not everyone was experiencing happy realities.

He suggested that the ones who benefited the most from all these changes were the politicians and business leaders and not the vast majority of people.

I am especially moved by his comment…

“What I think I see is a mood where people of no wealth become people of no value and, thereafter, are invisible.


(Denis Horgan, Hartford Courant, excerpt from Robert Hughes, On the Record: Mastering Reading and Listening Skills with the Newspaper)

Is a man´s merit to be judged by the amount of money he has in his bank account?

Is a man´s worth to be determined by the amount of possessions he can show the world?

After class I wander the streets of Winterthur.

I have a meeting with the school´s second-in-command later on in the afternoon, but, for now, I have a few hours to explore the city.

I stumble across a book shop (Orell Füssli) and a second hand comic/DVD/CD shop (Zappa Do-ing), a beer store (Drinks of the World) and a stationery shop Wachter Büro), a restaurant (Restaurant zur Sonne) and a Starbucks at the Winterthur Bahnhof.

I buy things I don´t need, but not to impress anyone as much as the acquisition of these things gives me pleasure.

I buy books and postcards of Winterthur and Switzerland, discover four types of glutenfree beer…

(See Unwanted Christmas Presence of this blog.)

…jump for joy at finding old Mad Magazine issues from Australia (!) and a Benny Hill movie (Who Done It?) and a Wings Over Switzerland CD (Paul McCartney recorded live at the Pavilion in Montreux on 22 July 1972) …

It is this joy of finding the unexpected, this immense delight of serendipity, that fills my heart with song.

I know these “treasures” today will simply be “trash” when I am no longer walking around my apartment.

Does having these trinkets add value to my life?

Do these things make me more worthy of merit?

After a wonderfully satisfying lunch of soup and rösti…


…I am reunited with familiar surroundings and some familiar faces at the Winterthur Bahnhof Starbucks: Eva, formerly of St. Gallen Marktplatz Starbucks…

(See Smells like Team Spirit of this blog.)

…and some faces I have begun to recognize from previous visits to Winterthur in my job search.

I would love to have a good conversation with Eva and her fellow Partners, but Starbucks sees no value in the Partners´relationships as much as it values profits generated from customer sales.

I understand their capitalist motivations but are baristas of no value if they produce no revenue every moment they are at work?

(Later this evening, roles are reversed when I am suddenly summoned to work at the St.Gallen Bahnhof Starbucks and am visited by friends while I am working.

I desperately wanted to devote time and attention they deserve but customers demand my services so…

Precious moments are lost.)

Landschlacht, 9 January 2016

My mind has been chewing over this question of how do we judge the merit of a man and I think I may have stumbled across its solution today at work.

It was with great sadness I learned of the sudden death of a loved one of a coworker of mine.

Without warning, with the sudden unexpectedness of a summer storm, the parent she loved was…gone.

I am no psychologist, no expert in human relations, I too struggle with saying the “right thing” to those grieving the loss of loved ones.

The only thing that came to mind was that my coworker is a wonderful woman.

I told her that the man her father was would be very proud of the woman his daughter had become.

In the cafe kitchen, amongst dirty dishes and stacks of supplies, we held each other tight.

Maybe in my bumbling fashion I have discovered what truly merits a man:

The legacy he leaves behind in those people whose lives he has touched.








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