I’m sure you all know the feeling. For several weeks I had been wondering where I had put the concert tickets. I could not remember the date of the concert, although I knew that it was some time in January. I had bought the tickets in cash before Christmas, on Jessie’s request, and I had put them by somewhere. In the welter of weighty matters which worry me every day the question of the errant tickets had never quite merited my undivided attention. The concert had not been well advertised and there was no reference to it on the internet. I resigned myself to thinking that I had missed it. Then, on the morning of the very last day of January, Jessie phoned me at work to tell me that the concert was that very evening. So at lunchtime I went to the concert hall in central Basel, only to be told by the ticket office that, despite having bought the tickets, without evidence we would not be allowed entry that evening, even on compassionate grounds. Feeling like Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the fourth reel, I resolved that even if I had to lie, cheat, steal or kill I would find the tickets, come hell or high water, in the clutter and shambles of my “home office” that very evening and in time to go to the concert. And so I did, extracting the precious documents from between unpaid domestic bills printed in red, just in time for Jessie and I to get to the Musiksaal of the Basel Staadtcasino and listen to an excellent programme played by the Latvian National Orchestra of Riga. The solo pianist was Berndt Glemser, who could be seen afterwards tossing his hair and signing autographs illustriously for the breathless bourgeouise of Basel.
Ella and I are back playing tennis together at weekends, and her tennis continues to improve, and she held her own very impressively indeed one evening in a doubles match with my friends. I told her sagely that it is always good to start playing regularly as early as possible in the season, although I cannot recall ever doing this myself. Jessie has presented her MYP personal project publicly to great acclaim. Her piano book for children, final printed copies of which only arrived on the last possible day, was extensively and approvingly examined by all comers at the general presentation of all the projects done by kids in her year. The standard of the year was again very high. The projects ranged from instructions on how to build emergency shelters quickly for earthquake victims to rewritten African folk tales, televised weather reports of the future, whole CDs of newly composed songs, a guide for financial investors in the technology sector, a chair made entirely of recycled bottles and paper, and an assessment of the impact of cultural differences among children at the school. Alli and I were full of admiration at this innovative and dedicated group of teenagers many of whom we had last met monosyllabically near-comatose in and around our lounge.
Gwen and I went to Rigi, the Queen of the Mountains, overlooking Lake Luzern. It was a changeable day and I was hoping, as we made our way by boat, cable car and train, that we would get the best of the fabled view of the Alpine range while we were at the summit. Luckily we did and we were able to gaze around a stunning panorama of Lake Luzern and its frame of mountains in all its glory in the cold sunlight, but we also got ten minutes of hail and ten minutes of snow and fog while we were on the summit to boot. Coming back on the boat across Lake Luzern I tried hard to identify the hotel where I stayed with my parents and brother Clive for two memorable weeks in the summer of 1966 (or was it 1967 or 68?). I think I identified the hotel accurately but I could not be sure and will need to check back on the Standard 8 film. Again I marvelled at Clive’s achievement over forty years ago of swimming across the breadth of the lake and back. Or…. did he? Gwen and I have also been doing some long exploring bike rides around the fields to the south of Oberwil.
There have been some very serious parties involving the girls this month. Jessie had some of her friends round one evening while Alli and I went to dinner with a neighbour, the dad of Jessie’s new boyfriend. There have also been a Valentine’s disco attended by Ella and a “Winter Formal” at the school, partly organised by Jessie, and various other fancy dress and themed parties among the girls’ friends, including a Rocky Horror Fancy Dress Party at the house of Ella’s friend Irene. The Winter Formal was not unlike, in some ways, an American High School prom, and was well organised by the School Council. Several of Jessie’s friends came to our house beforehand for a mass make-up session courtesy of Mary Kay Cosmetics. The girls changed into their dresses and newly made up looked like debutantes at the Court. The whole thing was all a trick to make parents feel old, I mused, thinking of the ever larger flash of white-grey in my hair. A few months ago in Singapore, a rather fey hairdresser, while flick-snipping away at my hair, asked if the grey flash was natural. I told him yes it was. “Cool..” he admiringly breathed.
We welcomed my cousin Christopher to our house for a weekend. Cousin Christopher works and teaches in Slovakia and has a keen sense of family relations and connections. He celebrated his birthday with us and he, Gwen and I went on a long walk in the Alschwill woods with Bonnie. We also had a lightning tour of Basel in between rain showers and had dinner at the Couronne d’Or in Leymen. We also went together with Ella to the Crossroads Church on the Sunday morning, the first time I had managed to attend for several weeks. We were also visited by friends Todd and Nadine McClay and family, on the way back to Brussels from a week’s skiing on a few centimetres of snow in the Swiss Alps.
Oberwil has had its Fastnacht (carnival), with the Waggies exchanging furious insults with the villagefolk while tossing out little toys, sweets, confetti and, for some reason, perfume sachets as the floats moved slowly through the village. It will take weeks to get rid of the confetti from the house. This is however the limit of our carnival experience this year, as we will be away on holiday during next week’s main Basel Fastnacht. Jessie and Ella’s reports have arrived and are much more than satisfactory. The one or two negative comments were of course more about their teachers’ failure to recognise their sheer brilliance than any shortcomings of which my children were accused. It all reminded me of one of my reports from a French teacher at school when I was nine years old. It was very simple. It went: “He is satisfied. I am not.”
Yours from on high