It has been another rainy month all told and we have all struggled to differentiate the weather from that of the country that we left a year ago. We have had four barbecues in all, three of them while it was actually raining quite hard. We have also discovered that weather forecasting is a profession in its infancy here and have often been caught in the wrong clothes miles from shelter, very notably on one occasion when Alli’s Belgian friends, Alexi, Sophie, Bernard and Anne were visiting us. They were very good company, with an acerbic sense of humour and keen wit. The Belgians and the English share broadly the same relationship to the weather, as well as, I have also noticed, to beer, the consumption of. One Saturday afternoon we determined to beat the weather and do something cultural. After looking around Mariastein, a nearby village with an interesting church and a chapel in a grotto (scene of a miracle involving Mary a few hundred years ago) we decided then to go and visit the castle high on a hill that we had seen while driving towards the village. The Pro Landskron is a ruined castle that has had some repairs done in the recent past but there was obviously still a very long way to go. Under a threatening sky we climbed up to the castle and it started to rain very hard just at the point when it would have been longer to go back than to proceed. It also turned very cold and windy. When we got to the top of the castle the view was, or should have been, stupendous, with a panorama of the area around South Basel. We got back in the car soaking wet, drove back and got ready for the night’s entertainment. It was one of the barbecues I mentioned earlier and I managed, only just, to get everything properly cooked. Alli’s friends are beer drinking champions. The beer consumption started very high and we quickly realised each day that we would need to buy more beer more quickly and more often. I realised how much I was drinking when I started to understand perfectly everything our Belgian friends said.
I am using a pedometer to measure how much movement I manage every day and I find myself trying to get to 10,000 steps every day, which apparently is the equivalent of walking five miles a day. Ever wondered how far you walk in a day? Well, I never did until I started using the pedometer. On one occasion after work in the evening (when I was not using the bicycle as it was being repaired) I changed trams at the zoo and, checking my pedometer, realised that for the third day running I was going to fail to reach the 10,000 steps necessary so I decided to walk for a stretch from the Binningen entrance of the zoo to Binningen Kronenveld (about a mile). It was a pleasant enough evening and so I started off with a jaunty air. When I got to Kronenveld I had been going less than twenty minutes so I thought I would carry on up the long hill. I kept walking on and on up the hill and was near to home when the bus eventually overtook me, so after 45 minutes of walking and three miles later I arrived bathed in sweat but pleased that I had managed to take over 11,000 steps for the day as a whole by the end.
One morning Jessie thought that she had lost her wallet (containing various irreplaceable items) and that she had probably thrown it away in one of the school bins by mistake. It had been in a plastic bag into which her friend had also put some rubbish and she had forgotten what else it contained when she had thrown the bag away. There seemed to be an atmosphere of fatalistic defeatism around the house so I took the initiative and phoned the school in the early morning (before 7am): no reply and just a facility for leaving a message. I then proposed to Jessie that she and I (and Gwen) drive into school very early and we would ask to go through all the bins, which would not have been taken away until later in the morning. So this is what we did. We would be able to retrieve Jessie’s wallet, even though it might be buried under tons of rubbish, and I was the one to do it. We got to the school. The early hour was obvious as there were plenty of parking places in the car park. We went in, Jessie cringing with embarrassment at my attire (I was dressed for the bicycle), and I asked the receptionist if I could go through the rubbish, once we had checked that the bag was no longer in the bin into which she had thrown it the evening before. The receptionist seemed unfazed at my request (I think she was Belgian). I half expected her to tell me to wait my turn while some other teenager’s parent had their turn at going through the bin-bags on a similar quest. The caretaker led us to the rubbish area, which was commendably tidy. It did not even smell. Gwen followed me in rather more enthusiastically than Jessie and I, down and dirty, started going methodically and carefully through the bin bags. Mercifully, at the fourth bag out of probably fifty to go and after examining a large number of white throw-away towels from the bathrooms, I found a plastic bag that Jessie recognized immediately. However, the wallet was not there. I thought that probably my job was now done while Jessie had another think about where she could have left it. I dropped Gwen at the kindergarten and drove home. Of course it had also started to rain. The wallet was found later, somewhere else entirely.
We went to Europapark a couple of weeks ago. Europapark is the largest theme park, apparently, in Europe. Alli and I went around with Gwen and two of her friends. For much of the day we had reasonably good weather. It was sunny, warm and breezy without being hot and it was quite pleasant just walking about. It only rained for a while we were under cover having lunch. I went on several rides with the girls and had an excellent time. There’s nothing quite like an amusement park to ensure that the children have a good and enjoyable day. Gwen loved the rides, and seemed utterly fearless. We have two very funny photographs of us all going fast down a rollercoaster.
A few days later we went to our neighbours’ house in the evening to watch the Eurovision song contest and have dinner. As ever it was an enjoyable and friendly affair. Alli had painted two tee shirts with a makeshift British flag and we wore these to the dinner, looking like grown-up punks. In addition, I had a Monty Python tie (rubric: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life) and a B. O. Gumby knotted handkerchief on my head. We watched a truly awful collection of music. It was won by the Greek entry and the British entry came almost last, so dire was the song. The Dutch and the Irish had not even managed to qualify, and no-one else produced any memorable song at all.
It was Jessie’s 14th birthday on the 9th. How quickly it all seems to have passed. You realise how quick are the joys that derive from one’s children’s childhood.
Her party took place at the end of the month, a camping party for 20 teenagers. Alli volunteered me to be the token “responsible adult” to accompany them overnight. There just wasn’t anyone else. The invitees and the hosts (including Jessie) arrived around 4pm and just, kinda, hung out for a while while I and a few helpers pitched some tents. Many, if not all, took advantage of the availability of the nearby swimming pool and were splashing around at top volume for some time during the afternoon. It was astonishing to see this group of around 20 teenagers relate to each other. In ones and twos they walked around the site, occasionally bursting out in laughter or some shocked expression, telling each other tales, gripping each other by the arms or hugging each other, however the mood took them. I started cooking at around 5.30pm and got the fire of the barbecue going at the second attempt. Alli was there buttering buns as I got the burgers and the sausages done without too many burnt offerings. The space for the food was quite limited but generally speaking everyone ate as much as they wanted, although one girl turned out to be a vegetarian and so was particularly poorly served that evening. The boys ate far more than the girls but for none of them was food really the central element of the evening. It was more the constant chat, the ebbing and flowing of conversation, of revelation and counter-revelation, of charge and counter-charge, of secrets and exposures, truths, fantasies, dares and concerns. I was very largely an alien in this society, and could not have been more misplaced if I had green ears, boggle eyes and a metre long tongue. The dark came slowly, even as groups were still huddling, moving, at once separating and joining, like microbial activity under a microscope, a coming and going in several dimensions, a movement of several parts within and among the whole. Gradually people were settling down. Many of the girls and a couple of the boys stayed outside the tents, taking their sleeping bags to the large tarpaulin in the centre and talking in low voices for more than an hour afterwards. They were well behaved in general, and I am not at all sure if a cross section of the children with whom I had grown up with would really have been as well behaved as Jessie’s friends were on that night.
The next day the dawn chorus made it very difficult to ignore the light and the waking sounds in the camp. One girl came out of her tent and said, utterly mystified, “why is the ground all wet?” Before Alli came with breakfast I had managed to do a bit of packing and taking down of the tents, two of which in practice had never been used as so many of them had slept al aire fresco. Others of the campers emerged at different times from the tents. I had not realised that so many of them had never had the experience of camping before. Eventually everyone was up, and Alli came like the US cavalry with croissants, orange juice and other breakfast food which were devoured quickly.
Our soccer correspondent writes: On the penultimate day of the month, West Ham qualified for the Premier League by beating Preston North End 1-0 in the Championship League play-off final, a goal from the ubiquitous Bobby Zamora settling the issue in the second half. The Irons are back where they belong.
Yours from the saddle