Early in the month while walking with the dogs Alli slipped and fell on an icy path in the woods and broke her ankle in three places. She had to be in hospital for nearly two weeks, undergoing two operations and considerable pain, not to mention an enormous degree of irritation that she was not at home directing family events; “I hate not being in control”. We were very grateful to our near neighbors the Richards, who helped us immediately on this and other lesser crises through the month. Others chipped in with very welcome assistance during the weekdays. As breaking ankles go, it was probably the best time to do it, all things considered. We were just getting settled after the move; Jessie was still at home to help out; and Gwen went off to ski camp for a week shortly afterwards. Alli is back home now on crutches and will have physiotherapy for several weeks. As a family we had a great time together over the Christmas period. The house’s unique and accommodating character benefits us all. The focal point is a large warm kitchen, from which the view east is pastoral, a meadow bounded by a stream and grazed by horses in the foreground, the other side of the village in the rising middle ground and the Landskron Castle cresting the wooded hinterland. Quite apart from the accident, the continual snow and frost made it a memorable and picturesque first January in France.
Ella has contentedly set up everything she needs in her luxurious split-level maisonette penthouse with balcony. She went to Vienna to play in a basketball tournament and helped the school come a creditable 2nd overall, but unfortunately did not have time to see much of the city. Gwen, who has used the sauna with her friends several times already, has plastered pictures and photos of dogs all over her spacious bedroom. A table football, originally intended as Gwen’s birthday present, was finally delivered in a suspiciously small box filled with thousands of tiny plastic pieces and millions of nuts, bolts and screws. It took me hours to build it, with Gwen hopping impatiently around me like a cosmetic surgeon’s assistant, passing me unfeasibly shaped plastic parts to fit into a three dimensional jigsaw. She was also happy to see her friend Maddy, over from New Zealand for the holiday. Shortly after Alli’s accident Gwen went off with the school skiing in Nendaz and had an excellent time there. Jessie was quickly into her stride and held a big party featuring all manner of diversions involving jelly shots of vodka and a drinking game that seemed to last all night and be heard across the entire village. She also went skiing for a few days with friends in Klosters. She left us again on the 21st, spending a few days in San Francisco before going on to her gap year job working for some New Zealand MPs. A week after she left we received her Christmas legacy, a chicken coop that she and a friend’s father had built. One frosty Sunday morning I and three other large men with hangovers brought it home on the back of a borrowed truck and carried it into our garden. It now needs a run and chooks in the spring. Stopping over from Graz, Alli’s parents helped us settle in further, with Nanny doing a mountain of ironing and Grandpa putting up the larger pictures on the walls. They were then seriously delayed getting back home by plane, which they managed only late the following day.
As far as family games went, we played Scrabble the most. The presence this year of an Official Scrabble Dictionary took getting used to, as some of the officially acceptable words were so far-fetched that I began to understand why the game can lose its appeal when played with someone who has memorized this Dictionary, which is full of two-letter words that I have never spoken, let alone used in a Scrabble game. Among them was “Qi” (pronounced “Chy”), a very disappointing discovery, as it robbed me of the certainty that Q can only be played with a U. Now that it can, the word seems to turn up in each and every game, winning at least eleven points. And, according to the Official Scrabble Dictionary, “phpht” is also a genuine word. Well, “phpht” to that, I say. Bonnie is happy in her new environment and hunts deer in the wintry-white woods. Dogs are not as friendly to each other here as in Switzerland and seem mostly to be large, loud, spike-collared and on looped ropes.
I visited the village dump in freezing weather to get rid of the heavy wooden sections of a broken wardrobe. This I did by backing the car very close to the skip, then balancing the heavy sections from the boot of the car across the side of the tip. Then in a virile swing movement with both hands I forcibly flung-slid them one by one up and far into the middle of the tip. On the last and heaviest section a nail caught on my glove which was then whooshed off my hand and launched together with the section high into the tip. It was the most unusual way that I have ever lost a single glove. I don’t know why I feel the need to imitate Buster Keaton whenever I try to do anything practical -a week later, while Alli was in hospital, I helpfully loaded the tumble dryer with a large mound of dirty clothes, under the impression that the dryer was in fact a washing machine. Not finding a suitable place to put in the powder, I liberally sprinkled the inside of the drum with washing powder then forced more powder into a suspiciously small hole in the oddly-shaped cartridge at the top. This had to be rectified by Jessie later with the aid of a vacuum cleaner and teenage expletives. I was only trying to help…
The last days of 2009 were characterized by desperate dashes to acquire French car insurance and number plates and to divest ourselves of the Swiss. Alli is officially the car-owner so it fell to her to go in our neighbor’s car to the Swiss registration center to hand in our number plates then a day later in a taxi to get grey cards, green slips and number plates from around the locality. I performed the less exacting task of driving to a French garage in the dusk on New Year’s Eve to have the temporary number plates fitted and later to get the Controle Technique done. But in this as in many other areas, we are waiting for the key document or return visit of key individual to complete the job. The complex question of family health insurance also urgently looms. Now that both school and work terms are in full swing, and Alli is so much less mobile, the capacity to get so many things done in a short space of time is circumscribed. But we will continue to get there, as I insouciantly inform those who inquire.
Yours with trans-frontier assurance pending,
Bonnie in the snow, Leymen, January 2010