22 March 2021

Royal Swiss brands,
Swiss navy knives and
land-locked navies

Royal Swiss knives … all dressed up without a royal pretender (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I once heard of a former colleague who, in his eagerness for promotion massaged his CV and claimed that he was fluent in a number of languages, including Swiss and Belgian.

I may never have been fluent in Swiss, but there is a group of street sellers pitching their wares in the car parks at shopping centres and supermarkets throughout Ireland, selling complete sets of knives with the brand-name ‘Royal Swiss.’

The Facebook page for ‘Royal Swiss’ offers a postal address north of Brussels in Belgium. Although the location is in Flemish or Dutch-speaking Belgium, the page is in French – perhaps someone found it difficult to translate the page into ‘Belgian.’

On closer examination, the packaging for ‘Royal Swiss’ knives does not say where these knives are made. Despite labelling in an array of European languages – none of them Swiss – there is no indication of their origin or where they have been manufactured.

But then, I have never checked out whether a Swiss Army knife is made in a Swiss army barracks, or a Swiss Watch comes from the same business in the Alpine village of Brienz that manufactures and markets Swiss cuckoo clocks – although I have never owned either a Swiss Army knife or a Swiss Watch.

It may be more honest to claim fluency in Swiss than to claim that any product is ‘Royal Swiss.’ The nearest thing Switzerland has to a royal family is the families who have hereditary rights to nominate their sons for the Swiss Guard, the elite, pantalooned troops that provide a colourful, ceremonial guard in the Vatican for the Pope.

But the presentation boxes for these sets of ‘Royal Swiss’ knives even display a monogram with a crown that conveys the impression of the full endorsement of a royal family.

Switzerland never had a royal family, and there are no pretenders to a Swiss throne.

I am remiss; of course there is a language that is unique to Switzerland: Romansch is spoken by about 36,000 people or 0.5 per cent of the population, mainly in the trilingual Canton of Grisons. In fact, more people in Switzerland actually speak Serbo-Croat, Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, English or Turkish as their ‘mother tongue.’

But then, I have sometimes wondered too why there is no Swiss Navy watch.

Although Switzerland is landlocked, it actually has a small navy of sorts. Lake Konstanz and Lake Geneva (Lake Leman) form international frontiers, and their navies consist of a few patrol craft.

Switzerland also has a major Rhine commercial fleet with patrol craft available in time of war. However, both the navy and air force are branches of the army, like the infantry and artillery, and are not referred to as an air force or a navy.

This Swiss ‘navy’ consists of ten patrol boats on two lakes that form international borders, Lake Constance and Lake Geneva. Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano also form Swiss international borders with Italy. But the shipping company for Lake Maggiore is Italian and flies only the Italian flag – and probably never heard of a Swiss Navy knife, never mind a Royal Swiss knife.

Flowers and candles in Wenceslas Square recall the Prague Spring of 1968-1969 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Perhaps the jokes about the Swiss navy are like the jokes about the Hungarian navy that were popular among journalists before the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War.

It was said in those days that Warsaw Pact ministers often turned up at conferences not knowing the agenda but only that it was their turn to be offered a junket with a few days stay in hotels in other central or east European capitals.

Shortly after the Prague Spring, three such ministers first bumped into each other at the pre-conference drinks reception in their hotel in Bucharest. Two of them turned to the man arrayed in a navy-blue, naval uniform, complete with gold braid and an array of medals and decorations.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am the Hungarian Minister for the Navy.’

They laughed. ‘But Hungary is landlocked.’

‘The Danube is a long river,’ he replied, ‘and Balaton is a very big lake, very big lake.’

Turning to one of the men in dark suits, the other two now asked him why he was there.

‘I am the Bulgarian Minister for Power.’

They laughed and laughed, and recalled the last time they had been to Sofia, when the Bulgarian capital was plunged into darkness for almost 24 hours.

‘And where are you from?’ the third man was asked.

‘I am the Czech Minister for Justice.’

No-one laughed.

Swiss Guards on duty in the Vatican ... the nearest Swiss to a royal family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
34, Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle

Saint Giles’s Church and its 200 ft spire dominate the Staffordshire market town of Chealde (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that were designed by Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852), the architect singularly responsible for shaping and influencing the Gothic revival in church architecture on these islands.

My photographs this morning (22 March 2021) are from Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle, Staffordshire.

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner once described Staffordshire as ‘Pugin-land’ after visiting Cheadle, the market town dominated by Saint Giles’s Church and its 200 ft spire. He wrote: ‘Nowhere can one study and understand Pugin better than in Staffordshire – not only his forms and features but his mind, and not only his churches but his secular architecture as well.’

John Talbot (1791-1852), 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, who lived at Alton Towers and commissioned AWN Pugin to build many churches in Staffordshire, including Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle.

Lord Shrewsbury, once ‘the most prominent British Catholic of day,’ extended his family’s Irish connections when he married Maria Theresa Talbot, daughter of Thomas William Talbot of Castle Talbot, Co Wexford – an Irish branch of the Talbot family that were patrons of Pugin too.

Pugin’s interior, including his rood screen, remain largely intact in Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 8: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 … Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (22 March 2021), also World Water Day, prays:

Let us give thanks for all USPG’s partner organisations that are working towards giving communities access to clean water and good sanitation.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The arms of the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury, represented on the doors of Saint Giles’s Church in Cheadle, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org