Briskly Vainglorious Bower
You may be amused or possibly worried to learn that I have participated in my first serious run for 25 years when I turned out in company garb for Basel’s annual Firmenlauf. Over 1,600 runners got going on a six kilometre trail through woods and a big adjacent park, the Grun 80. Six kilometres? I used to warm up doing six kilometres! Not any more. I found the going very tough indeed right from the start thanks to my large weight and apparently leaden feet and although I never stopped I was often going very slowly indeed. In fact, so slowly was I going at times that a few people actually walked briskly past me as I puffed on. After finishing I was so horrified by the implication of my experience that I bought a pair of running shoes the very next day, have done a couple of shorter subsequent runs and swims, and have started to enquire about performance-enhancing drugs. Today I resumed my bike to get to and from work.
We went to dinner with our good friends the Barnes of Biel Benken, who as usual treated us like royalty (in a country – invariably republican – where royalty is popular). Sitting outside in the Barnes’ garden in the warm evening with a fine Meursault is an experience difficult to beat and the excellence of the wine induced me almost to forget to be hungry, although perhaps I should not draw attention to this as Alli, admirably, has decided to give up all alcohol for six months (with an exception later made for our holiday). This decision followed the news that I had successfully agreed the terms for the purchase of a house just over the French border in Leymen. Following a meeting with the eccentric notaire the previous week, I went to see the vendor one Saturday morning to eliminate the sizeable areas that had not previously been specified and we thrashed the whole thing out in three hours in a psychological negotiation that felt like five-dimensional chess. The deal includes unusually high-quality fixtures and fittings, electrical items to be installed, a water softener, kilometers of shelving and even some impressive works of modern art. I texted Alli as I triumphantly left the house and she promptly announced the fact on the vainglorious Facebook, eliciting congratulations from some of our friends before, exhausted, I had even arrived home. We aim to move by 1st November.
Ella passed ten days in Britanny with a French family, spending time in Dinard and St Malo. This helped to improve her French language skills in preparation for her French studies for the International Baccalaureate diploma, the two-year course which starts in a couple of weeks. Her major subjects will be English, Psychology and History (although Geography may still be a possibility). The Morrisby psychology test that she took recently to assist her career decision indicated that her best choices could be journalism or psychology. These professions seem related, anyway. And talking of matters academic, Jessie has won her Diploma for the International Baccalaureate with flying colors and has been researching the best universities to choose. The applications can wait until she has had the benefit of her gap year and can re-apply with the same grades. Later this month she departs for San Francisco to see Lawrence, her boyfriend. She then starts her gap year with a full time holiday job in a law firm in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In other words, everything for Jessie is either onwards or upwards (and probably both).
We all (except Jessie, who has been at home looking after the dogs, saying goodbye to her boyfriend and her other friends) snatched a week of relaxation in our house in South West France, La Hune, and although the time was short we managed to do much of what we normally did over longer periods in other years. We also hosted Oliver and Sophia, our nephew and niece, while their Dad and Mum had to work. We visited the Honey Museum in Gramont and the markets in Auvillar, St Clar and Valence; we had dinner with the Verdiers and the Thouins; we made extensive use of the swimming pool. At the Thouins (our neighbors both in Oberwil and the Lomagne) we gathered under a leafy bower to the back of the house while the wind swept, dipped and whipped around, tossing the trees and waving the leaves while we drank cool aperitifs below in the shaded calm. We celebrated Ella’s 16th birthday by going to dinner in Auvillar, sitting out on the terrace in the golden sunshine which reflected off the old walls of the town. Ella has been using her main present for some weeks already, a digital camera of quality, and she has taken some excellent photos with it, including one of Jessie and Lawrence partially obscured by lilies. Gwen had her ears pierced in the same jewelers in Valence d’Agen where all the girls have been similarly initiated. She also swam hundreds of lengths of the pool during the week, far more than I did. It paled by contrast to Jessie who, almost as an afterthought, swam four kilometers in one go for a charity in Basel. She came back complaining only of sunburn.
We have just come back from enjoying several days full of fun, activity and new experiences with the Miles of Graz, staying in their impressive lakeside residence in southern Austria, near Villach in Carinthia at the Faaker See. This is the ancestral terroir of Helen, our sister-in-law, who spent her childhood holidays there and where her mother was born and grew up. Copiously informed by Helen, who has just become an official professional guide for Austria, we visited local castles and churches or went on rambles in the mornings, then to reading, swimming and sunbathing by the lake in the afternoons. The Faak lake with its clear, constantly renewed turquoise water provided much of our leisure, for there boats available, but there were also great views to be had from the mountains (part of the southern limestone Alps) and valleys as well as from the house itself where the sight across the lake was memorable. One morning we went mushroom picking in the woods and picked enough to provide a starter for dinner. On another night the Miles made an Austrian speciality, the Kaiserschmarn, quickly despatched. We also visited Villach where there was a festival marking the Villacher Kirchtag, and we saw the Ossiach Collegiate Church, location of the tomb of the Polish King Boleslaus. We were constantly entertained by the Miles children, Eve, Joe and George. We also had to contend with many dangers, real and imagined, from the regional ticks in the woods to protective cattle on our mountain paths. But the sight of lean and mean “Uncle” Nick, collar gripped tight with one hand, the other quivering taut with slipper, focusing with malice on the destruction of what was purported to be a hornet (but was very nearly the Ikea standard lamp), will stay long in the memory.
Yours with a smart thwack,
With the Miles in Southern Austria around the Faaker See, 2009