The month began in deepest white winter and finished in thrusting gusty springtime. Due to Alli’s slow recovery from her broken ankle I continued to walk the dogs in the early mornings, then drive to work, dropping off Ella and Gwen along the way at their different school venues in Aesch and Reinach. On St David’s day morning the pre-dawn sky was bright from a bulbous moon that lay huge and swollen on the side of the hill. I noticed this as I was passing the Highland cattle, dark brown hairy horned beasts owned by a local farmer. They lie contentedly in the clammy mud, ruminating at dawn and looking heavily unconcerned. A single line of loosely tacked barbed wire separates them from the path, along which I walk on the sides of my feet. Bonnie and Tequila (our lodger dog) have lost their fear and sniff around near them, although Bonnie jumped sideways a full three meters when one of them suddenly moved its large ruminating shaggy head to fix her with a bovine stare.
There was a full-blown snow blizzard on my 53rd birthday and I spent much of the day, a Saturday, ferrying Ella and Gwen, who were representing their school in basketball and swimming respectively, to and fro through the flurries. Heavy snow fell repeatedly during the day and the car became a snow plough. We celebrated my new age by going to dinner at the Couronne d’Or in Leymen. The snow was largely gone again by the Monday morning when I drove to Ruschlikon near Zurich for an early morning meeting. Zurich is a mess of road works at the moment and the tom-tom is useless there. At one point it directed me through a building site and across Platform 4 of the main line station. The snow returned with a vengeance later in the week on the day before I left for the USA. I spent the weekend in New York City where I got soaked to the skin while walking thirty blocks in a prolonged cloudburst with my heavy suitcases and wearing a waterlogged suit, which later quite literally fell apart at the seams. It felt like the flood had come to New York: pavements scattered with broken black umbrellas, gathered in stricken clusters at crossings. It made me wonder, again, what actually is the point of an umbrella? But I had the great pleasure of meeting Peter, an old school friend, for brunch and seeing again friends Donna, Casey and Carl. Donna and I enjoyed an evening of jazz at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, featuring the George Coleman Quartet. For the next few days I was in North Carolina enjoying the less hectic hospitality of Gigi and Paul.
Our house is ours! I mean, really ours! After four months and two days of residence and three days before our 21st wedding anniversary we signed papers confirming the purchase of the property and we celebrated with Cremant d’Alsace and dinner in Fluh. We then spent a week in England, starting by attending the wedding in Oxford of my second cousin, Kate Moss. We stayed in Wadham College, enjoying the celebrations there and at Magdalen College. I also had the privilege of meeting second cousins from another branch of my mothers’ family (the Batsons), whom I had never met before. At the Oxford Playhouse Ella and I saw Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, which Ella is studying at school and which I also studied many years ago. I was interested to see in the program notes that recent years have seen a change in the assessment of Antigone’s uncle Creon, considered to be an evil, pitiless and unthinking fascist dictator when I first read the contemporary literary analysis in the 1970s, but now rehabilitated as a concerned parent and helpless tragic figure. The following day we drove to London via lunch at the Duck In at Aston Clinton to see Adam, Angela and their six-month old baby girl, my latest god-child, the very happy and content Eleanor Berenice. Afterwards we drove to Victoria in pouring rain and managed to get to the theatre just in time to see the excellent Billy Elliott – The Musical.
We spent the rest of our time in Sussex with Alli’s parents, who spoilt us with their cooking and comfort. This provided the basis for the girls to go on an extended shopping spree and for me to explore Brighton and its environs. I went to Rudyard Kipling’s house in Rottingdean where he spent five years before moving to Batemans further along the coast. I spent a long time in the nearby Grange House, where a compelling exhibition about Kipling, his community and his contemporaries, is offered by local enthusiasts. I also walked around Kipling Gardens, looked over North End House, the residence of Sir Edward Burne Jones and inspected his nephew (and Kipling’s cousin) Stanley Baldwin’s summer house, and that was all just by walking around the village green.
The North Laine in Brighton. That’s what the urban areas of England ought to be and look like. Edgy, threadbare, multicultural, live-and-let-live, creative and addictive. Like a good second-hand bookshop, this part of Brighton is at once challenging, instructive and relaxing, with different lifestyles cheek by jowl, just as you might find an e.e.cummings next to the meditations of St Teresa of Avila and the Brothers Karamazov next to the Bhagavad-Gita on the opposite shelf. You also realize how much more there is to learn about yourself and others. I warmed to the vanishing art of browsing away a whole afternoon in dusty bookshops while the seagulls mewed and yawled and the rain torrents spattered outside on the spring awnings. I had a pint at the Regency Tavern amidst cackling pink-frilled ladies of the theatre and absurd rococo wall decorations. From a rain swept Sussex we returned to a windy Basel, to a newly dug hole in our road, the water supply once more cut off, and our very own house.
Yours just so
Alli and Lionel, Oxford 2010
Wedding of Kate Moss and Tom Hamblin