A timid throat-clearing at the Wednesday matinee? A pusillanimous boffin meticulously recording his watchmaker sales in triplicate? An apple-cheeked teetotaller still harrumphing that the 06.12 train to Lausanne ran four seconds behind schedule in 1993? Well, I’ll give you half a point for any of the above; generally, there is more chance of a daffodil biting you on the bottom than a hair falling out of place down here.
But then there is Fasnacht.
It’s a party to end all parties, and it kicks off on what they call “Dirty Thursday”. For an entire week preceding the start of Lent, both night and day, Switzerland actually goes nuts. ‘I have been on my legs since yesterday morning…and I am a grandmother,’ admitted one lady, fuelling her revelry with a glass of plum schnapps, hot water, sugar and coffee.
‘You’re not from round here, are you?’ asked another girl with a zip stuck to her forehead. ‘You haven’t got any make-up on.’ Now, I’m not joking – everybody had applied it. And there’d been no stinting when it came to costumes; for months beforehand, locals in Altdorf had prepared original, vivid outfits that had to be seen to be believed. Before long, however, I barely noticed a Hell’s Angel on one side and a leprechaun on the other.
‘It’s a case of joining in or leaving the country for a week,’ explained Swiss Jules, polishing off an Eichhof beer before lunch. ‘You either love it or hate it.’ Well, what’s not to love? For me it was nirvana: I’d never seen so many trombones, for a start. Dozens lay careworn and unlacquered, hanging from coathooks in bars, propped up in umbrella stands and resting insouciantly atop prams. Brilliant!
But doesn’t anybody realise that a trombone slide is a precision tool, I cried, sounding like a Swissman on any of the other 358 days of the year. The slightest dent can hamper slide technique; there is lubrication to consider; the instrument’s weight should be supported; and… Ah, I see. Yes, the trombones are all knackered, but the fanfare procession is only in the key of B flat; arpeggios can be blasted tunelessly in first position without moving the slide. Clever old Swiss…