Tuesday, 10 May 2016


For no reason at all I was rifling through some old photographs when I came upon this black and white postcard from my grandfather. Unfortunately someone has torn off the stamps which might have given a clue as to the date, stuck the card into an album, and torn it out again. ‘Vandal!’ remarked my husband as I sat hoping that it had not been my younger self who was the culprit. However, various clues have established a rough date of 1958 as a reasonable estimate.

The little alpine hut was Turtmann-Hutte, located deep in the Swiss Alps , in a remote corner of the Turtmann valley. If, like me, you are still none the wiser, here is a link to the Wikipedia information: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtmann.

But it’s not the location about which I write. Rather, it is the message on the card, written diagonally in his beautiful handwriting, which comes from the heart:

I have had the occasion to go into the Alps probably for the last time, the climbing was a bit too much, but I managed it!! I spent the night in this Alpine Hut. Love to you all, Grand’pa

Scrawled on the top edge, upside down, is the signature of his younger brother Oncle Georges who accompanied him on the trip.
My grandfather was French Swiss, a clever man whose job brought him to London in the early part of the twentieth century, where he married an Englishwoman and made his home. He seldom went back to the place of his birth in the Jura Mountains, declaring that it had changed too much. Perhaps this trip felt like a final journey? Certainly the words recognise his own limitations. He had a bad heart which eventually failed him ten years later.

He was not a man to dwell on achievements, but his pleasure in having succeeded in his climb to the Alpine Hut is clearly revealed by those two exclamation marks.
Climbing mountains has been a metaphor for surmounting life’s difficulties since the beginning of time. To me, the message on this card reinforces my own philosophy of ‘expect the unexpected’ by rephrasing it as: ‘take an unexpected opportunity and your struggle may reward you with an achievement’. Or so I hope! The challenge is both physical and mental. In battling the growing limitations on the ageing human body, we continue to tease it with the occasional push, whilst being rewarded with the aches and pains of disgruntled muscles for whom such exercise was becoming a memory. 

The Alpine Hut has completely changed now, of course, as the present owners’ website shows: http://www.turtmannhuette.ch/. It hasn't gone, but has been considerably expanded, accommodating many more people than at the time my grandfather and his brother stayed there.

The mountains, though, are eternal...