This month we have had many difficulties with our computers, the internet and wireless access, which has led me to realise that the computer is today what the car was in the 1950s, when automobiles could be seen quite regularly broken down along the sides of roads, bonnet open, often with steam or smoke pouring out and with an exasperated driver peering into the engine scratching his head. Somehow this scene seems to have largely disappeared from our roads today but in its place has appeared a remarkably similar scene: the domestic computer break down, with a family computer stubbornly refusing to work, surrounded by a family scene of anguished mum, irritated dad and traumatised teenage children as well as other self-appointed experts scratching their heads and staring at the screen as if concentration alone would put it right.
I took Gwen to the Kunstmuseum in Basel (although she said she would have preferred to go to the zoo). I gently insisted and she was fine about it, so we set off on a Saturday morning in the sunshine, took the 61 bus and the 2 tram and arrived at the museum at around 11am. As we went around the museum, in most cases I told Gwen what the picture was called and she decided whether it was a good title or not. Then we saw some pictures for which she tried to guess what the titles were. She picked a favourite, probably the most classical and traditional painting in the museum, but she also enjoyed the modern ones as well, seeming particularly to like the Mondrians. There were also several Picassos, Braques and Legers on display. One piece of modern scuplture that attracted her attention keenly after I read out the title was “Woman reclining with her throat cut”.
We decided one Sunday to go to the “monkey mountain” in Alsace. We drove to the place, some 20 minutes north of Colmar and walked around a cordoned environment on the wooded side of a hill, looking at hundreds of relatively tame Barbary monkeys as they interacted, took popcorn from our hands and picked out nits from each other’s fur. It was an instructive and enjoyable experience, and the girls enjoyed it. Jessie rediscovered temporarily her early affection for all things monkey, while Gwen just thought they were all cute, especially the small ones.
We have been in Luxembourg staying with the Anthony and Susanne Miles family. We ate and drank very well, and managed to get to bed most nights. The children were particularly taken with Susanne’s new car, a red Mustang. I got a lift in it to go and see a friend of mine who now works at SES-Astra, and we drove through the fields to the Chateau Betzdorf, Astra’s centre of operations. This was housed in a quiet modern circular building next to the chateau, well designed and arranged in a circle on the lea of a hill. My friend Markus showed me around the site, and I saw the twenty or so massive dishes planted on the roof and side of the chateau that control the satellite’s movements 26 miles into space. I also saw the early television set that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands had gifted to the Luxembourg Duke and his family in 1957, the first TV in the country at the time.
Jessie spent some of her half term break visiting friends and family in England. She met many of her friends, Nanny and Grandpa and Uncle Nick, Auntie Helen and family and guided herself around London, Surrey and Sussex with no difficulties at all. We have also been visited by Nanny and Grandpa, whom the children are always very pleased to see, as it gives them a break from having us moaning at them all the time. I also spent the whole of one weekend on a major 25km hike around, up and down the mountainous area near Neuchatel, including the stunning Creux du Van, a natural sheer cliff of truly breathtaking proportions but which was covered in mist when we visited.
The children have been on their Halloween sortie to all our neighbours and came back with record amounts of sweets and plenty of stories to tell. One man apologised that he had nothing to give them but offered instead a fat purse full of coins. The children returned later after some consultation and gave it back to him, despite my well-founded protests.
But, but, but…