Traders in Human Flesh The Tits and the Pendulum


Traders in Human Flesh

The Tits and the Pendulum

Fear the Goat Boy

Passion and intrigue walk the knife's edge, every day in Switzerland

31st March, 2003

Excitement. Danger. Glamorous locations. Exotic glances from lethal women, and every breath could be my last. I'm back in Switzerland.

Yesterday: a foggy day and clear instructions, in a dress down office off the Blackfriars Road. "There's something going on in the heart of Switzerland, and you're going to find it. Make your way in, posing as just some guy. Your true identity - playboy, athlete and lover of women - must be kept hidden. You may be called on to perform acts of quiet heroism, of stunning accuracy, of physical excess (a thin smile). You will not fail. Find out what the Swiss are hiding. Noone can be that calm. Nothing can be so well-ordered. Nowhere could be that dull."

The Enigmatic Swiss

The soft route through Geneva. I scan the local papers for current intelligence. Front page: excitement, pride, glowing editorial tributes:
"Switzerland has won the America's Cup! Our boys bring the America's Cup home!!!"

Page two: "What on earth is the America's Cup?"

Switzerland had just won the biggest prize in ocean yachting, despite having neither yachts nor any ocean to its name. My chief had been right. They were up to something.

The train east from Geneva glides in silence past the great lake and the alps shuffling like patient giants beyond. Everything is calm. Everything is in place. The French chatter is no different from that over the border just a few miles away. But slowly, as we move east, a new note enters conversation. Someone comes up to me: Der Stuhl ist frei? she asks. But it sounds like shtool oust froyy??.

I'm being tested. She's using the almost indecipherable secret code of the Schweizer cantons. This is a dialect of German sounds like a mixture of outraged milkmaid and bantam hen. The woman carries on, in pure Swiss German: Hooty toootty tooty?.
I smile. "Yawww" I say, Ja and hope. She smiles. I pass the test.

Interlaken Takedown

Interlaken. The town is perched, a perfect gem, between two alpine lakes, with the Jungfraujoch towering, white and splendid above. Too perfect. If anyone wanted to hide a secret base from which to control the world/fire a giant laser/swap bad puns with beautiful women, this would be the place. So where would the base be? Hidden under one of the lakes, or inside a rotating mountain top?

Would I be involved in a underwater scuba battle involving thirty henchmen, the entire Swiss synchronised swimming team and an inflatable squid? Or was it to be a jaw-dropping ski descent from the Jungfrau with clashes against machine-gun wielding goons on motorised skidoos? Where would I find the masked Swiss masterminds, known only as Heidi and Peter the Goat Boy?

Then I discovered Schloss Thun.

Schloss Thun

The deserted medieval castle with pepperpot turrets loomed over a quaint village. There could be no doubt. I had found the lair. Posing as just some ordinary guy, I hire a bicycle for a stealth approach. The approach to the castle along the lake is cunningly disguised as a pleasantly rambling road with many opportunities to stop for a photograph, and laybys for the occasional, considerate motorists.

There is even an attempt to hide the brooding menace of the castle itself behind gaily painted banners, expensive coffe shops and small groups of polite, well-dressed tourists. I'm not fooled. I decide to slip in like a shadow, using my perfect balance and coordination to join the queue and buy a ticket.

I look at the collection of medieval and renaissance weapons.
I contemplate the suit of armour.
I admire the view from the tower.
I consider the display on the Swiss mercenary in royal armies, 1200 - 1842.
I have a headache and leave.

The Perfect Punk

Luzern. Another lake. More mountains. The towers and bridges of the old town were lit by the sparkling waters beneath. I had found some graffiti (short German words and a shape that could be a penis) on a wooden bridge and linked it to a small group of punks.

Dissidents! The secret underground! An angry voice rising up in rebellion against the strict order and cheerfulness of Swiss society!

Perhaps they would reveal, in hushed undertones, of the Swiss plan to do whatever it was the Swiss were planning to do. I move towards them. And stop. Something is wrong. The anarchic rebels against clean and orderly society are very... clean and orderly rebels. The green hair recently washed, the denim cut-offs with 'Hate' neatly embroidered on the back, freshly pressed.

The punks are plants! A honey trap! I back off.

Time for a coffee and a new plan.
Guten abend, says the waiter. It sounds like Goooten ahhbick!. The test again.
Ich möchte einen Schale Milchkaffee, I say, tyring to sound casual.
Hooty toooty toooty?, he inquires. I freeze, unable to figure out what he wants. My cover is blown. The waiter's eyes narrow, and he barks a sharp order:
Hootty Tootty Tooty!

I run.

Escape from Gemütlichkeit

The dash to the border. To Germany and freedom. I smuggle myself on board a train and hold on for dear life through Zurich and Basel, stopping only for a stroll to the catherdral, the view over Lake Zurich and a pleasant afternoon along the Rhein. And then I escape. From neutrality.

In Luzern, I visit the Löwe, a dying lion carved in the living rock in memory of Louis XVI's Swiss who died loyal to the doomed king. Swiss troops were once found at every battle in Europe, when suddenly, without warning, they withdrew to their mountain home, where they've waited ever since, hidden behind cunningly-built defences of postcards, jaeger hats and alpenhorns. Switzerland is a bastion of peace, calm, and natural beauty. Trains run on time. Everyone is good-natured, open-minded and cheerful.

They're definitely up to something.





Looming Castle.jpg
Scloss Thun





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The Facts

Where I stayed
Interlaken: Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof. Large, pleasant, central location. Lots of space and facilities including gardens. Recommended.
Zurich: City Backpackers. Cramped, but central and relatively cheap.
Lucerne: SJH Jugendherberge Luzern Big, concrete, impersonal. Clean.

How I got around: SBB (Swiss Railways) all over. Wonderful way to see the country.