Following in the Steps of Sepp

After completing our clockwise tour of the northern shoreline of Lake Geneva, we head inland at the eastern extremity of Villeneuve and drive along the Rhone Valley. Our first photo is labelled ‘The Diablerats, Berner Alps’. There is a mountain town called Diablerats but this isn’t it. We are on the flat and the catenary in the background is obviously for a double track whereas the line up the valley to Diablerats is a single line. Rather we are still following the Rhone on the main road heading northeast towards Visp and looking in the direction of the Diablerats mountain peaks.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
The Diablerats, Berner Alps.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

With the valley clearly in sight and with the railway line being only yards north of the road, it should be easy to find on the modern-day miracle that is Street View. However, for once the usually faultless Swiss have blotted their copybook by building a mega highway, planting trees beside it and adding opaque noise-reducing panels next to the railway line. Why would anybody not want to listen to the sound of passing trains? Especially those the Simplon Railway as it addresses the Rhone Valley en route to the Simplon Tunnel’s portal at Brigg? Suffice it to say, the photo was taken in better times roundabout where the railway line and old road pass south of Vetroz and west of Sion airfield.

We are short of photos as we head up the valley towards Visp. This is a shame as we miss out on some interesting places my grandparents must have passed through on their 1955 Ford Prefect road trip.

Having previously nodded towards the bon viveurs at UEFA headquarters at Nyon and the International Olympic Committee HQ in Lausanne, we now reach another important, though neglected, milepost in world sport.

At the recent world wendyball cup finals much debate was had over which player is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). Messi takes the laurels over his arch rival Ronaldo by being on the winning side in the December final. Having said that, Ronaldo is four years the elder and after a hiccup at Manchester United is banging them in (and piling up the dosh) for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassar. In fairness, the jury is still out while we await to see if Lionel Messi ages better or worse than Ronaldo.

But on the road to Visp, we’re reminded of another of the true greats of world football. As we reach the field of dreams that is FC Sierre, we find the hallowed Swiss third-division turf where a five-foot-nothing centre forward plied his trade on his rise to become one of the most influential and wealthy characters in the history of the people’s game. Step forward and take a bow, Mr Sepp Blatter. After bothering the back of the onion bag for what in England would be a pub team’s dads and lads third team, Sepp embarked on a career in business. This culminated with him being in the right place at the right time to head FIFA just as TV and sponsorship took the beautiful game to its present overpowering, omnipresent and very lucrative level.

Delighted at the opportunity, Blatter became a byword for corruption, graft and largesse, even managing to take bribes from countries such as Palestine who didn’t even have a football team.

Away from the rain-washed terraces, as ever, it is the pretty young girl who best understands the heart of the rich old man. Pictured here, the six-foot hottie with the killer red dress and THOSE legs isn’t the 86-year-old multi-millionaire’s granddaughter but his girlfriend, Linda Barrass. Did somebody mention something about old goats?

In truth, your humble reviewer of family albums has a soft spot for the old crook. We all get to watch the best footballers in the world live and for free on broadcast TV. Outwith the beneficial hand of Sepp Blatter, I have to pay to watch my fourth-tier local XI in their mid-season wobbly fight against promotion. Meanwhile, at the World Cup we don’t even have to put up with the inconvenience of adverts on the shirts.

What’s more, in selflessly realising the best place to have a kickabout is Qatar, Mr Blatter ensured there’d be no beer, and therefore no trouble, and that stamp tramps, land whales and growlers would be helpfully covered from head to toe in black sheets. What’s to complain about?

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Mr Sepp Blatter rubs his hands.
Football administrator Sepp Blatter,
Пресс-служба Президента России
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

As we continue along the Rhone Valley we reach Visp, Mr Blatter’s birthplace and only five and a half miles from the entrance to the Simplon Tunnel. There, the Simplon Railway heads under the Alps for 12 miles and enters Italy bound for Lake Maggiore. But at Visp, we head south, down the deepest valley in Switzerland, and follow the Matter Vispa river to St Niklaus.

You would expect the following photographs to be easily identifiable but unfortunately Street View doesn’t cover the area. Added to which there are few panoramic views on Google Maps. All the same, what we do see is revealing. Slap bang in the middle of the image below is the onion dome spire of the parish church of St Nicholas of Myra.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
St Niklaus.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

The parish dates from the 13 century. In 1720 the then church was demolished by an avalanche. The resulting baroque structure was itself replaced in 1965. The spire, which dates from 1650, remains. Its tower contains four bells, the oldest dating from 1767, which were electrified in 1958, three years after my grandparent’s visit.

At Christmas time, between St Nicholas day on 6th December and Three Kings Day (or Epiphany) on 6th January, the locals decorate the spire from top to bottom in red and white with the onion dome becoming a pointy red hat above the bearded face of St Nicholas himself. When complete, the township hosts the largest statue of Sant Nicjklous in the world at over 100 feet in height.

Speaking of statues, within the shadow of outsized Santa Claus stands a 14-foot-high mountain guide monument in honour of the British mountaineers of the Ladies’ Alpine Club, the British mountaineers of the Alpine Club and the mountain guides of the municipality of St. Niklaus.

Diagonally to the left of the church, we can see another event captured in time. The exposed lighter ground is a building site where a new factory was being built. This was for the Scintilla subsidiary of Bosch and opened the following year (not so much built as thrown up). On the site, Scintilla produces saw blades, step drills and blades for garden equipment. ‘All to the superior standards of quality for which Switzerland is known.’

Make note of that last sentence. I bought a Bosch push-along mower which turned out to be Made In China crap. Consumer advice: when buying Bosch, make sure it has ‘Made in Switzerland’ stamped on it.

Despite the move of manufacturing to the Far East, not only has the Scintilla factory survived, it was expanded as recently as 2019.

Given it is a distinctive building beside a bridge, the chalet where my grandparents stayed should be easily identifiable. However, without Street View, I’m struggling.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
The chalet, St Niklaus.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal
Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
The view from the chalet.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

In the ‘view from the chalet’ photo, we can see a neighbouring property with a giant boulder behind it.

I suspect that it is here. Thanks to Garage Brigger for proving one of the few panoramic photos available.

‘Waschanlage’ is a great word isn’t it? The Germans do have a way. Incidentally, it’s a female noun – an indication of who should be washing the car.

A scout about via the link shows another new road in the way. My grandparent’s chalet should be way down to the right. There is a roundabout now, linking the old road to the new one where the old bridge was.

On the ‘view from the chalet’ photo, we can also see the railway line runs behind the boulder but not behind ‘our’ chalet. Therefore the chalet must be on the car wash side of the river and out of sight of the panoramic. Grrr. Plus the pitch of the roofs in the chalets on the far side of the roundabout run in the wrong direction.

Does it matter?

Not really, but why not try the map and photos on Airbnb, contact the nearest host and ask? A presentable German spinster of a certain age, in possession of a spare room containing a ‘French bed’, answered my request. However, no matter how hard I tried to turn the conversation towards nearby chalets, all she would say was that she was ‘open-minded’. Dear God. What goes on in these places? After making an excuse and deleting my Airbnb account, I felt obliged to turn to the next page of our family photo album.

© Always Worth Saying 2023