Darling, you’ve driven me away

By Joe Joseph, April 30, 2009

Who would have thought it! Me! Here! In Switzerland! Visiting estate agents! But then who would have thought that Alistair Darling would hike up top rates of taxes and turn Britain from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of tax-avoiders, all of them packing their bags for their nearest tax haven.

At any rate, that’s what the serious newspapers have been saying about the Budget for the past week. And when serious newspapers say something, we know we can trust their judgement (you can tell if it’s a serious newspaper because, after devoting its first 32 pages to an analysis of Susan Boyle’s chances of winning Britain’s Got Talent, it still finds room for a News in Brief column that provides a paragraph each on the chances of the world’s economy imploding before next Tuesday and whether Iran or North Korea will be first to launch a nuclear weapon).

So what are my first impressions?

Put it this way: there’s probably a good reason why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco rather than in Zug. Switzerland has always had an image problem, tending to be famous as a land of cuckoo clocks, chocolate and bankers who’d forgotten they held any dormant bank accounts belonging to Holocaust victims.

I’ll be honest: there are downsides. One is that while the rich people here make lots of money, you can’t eat this. So they have to rely for food on what the poorer Swiss farmers produce. As a result, the national cuisine mostly comprises melted cheese. Or fried potato peelings, called rösti. Or melted cheese on fried potato peelings.

On the upside, you can spend every afternoon skiing, which is a great way to combine vigorous exercise with the opportunity to sustain the sort of fractures that leave your thigh bone looking like the pieces of an orthopaedic jigsaw puzzle.

I’m still torn about whether it’s worth staying. You know how they say that if you marry for money you end up earning it? Maybe it’s the same with staying rich by wedding yourself to a life in Lucerne rather than London just so you can avoid some tax. And as for Neue Zuericher Zeiting’s in-depth analysis of the ramifications of Susan Boyle’s makeover, you know what? This so-called serious newspaper didn’t even have one! It takes a lot of melted cheese to fill a hole that big in your life.

Joe Joseph is a writer for The Times

Last updated: 11:18am, April 30 2009