This month turns out to have been one of the most sociable in all our family’s shared memory. In four short weeks Alli and I have been out to dinner together no less than five times; we welcomed our cousin Christopher and five of his friends to our house; we have gone to a big bustling neighborhood musical party; and Alli has hosted a cards evening. This renewed propathy must have something to do with living in France as well as in our new house, which we are keen to show off. We both admit to feeling more relaxed since our move from Switzerland, where there are big differences in the nitty-gritty of daily living and doing. Unlike Switzerland, France offers indifferent public services, bad-tempered officialdom, chaotic local government and badly behaved dog-owners. But I breathe a scarcely audible sigh of relief whenever I cross the border back into France, and I cannot properly explain it. Granted, I can now make myself understood locally, even if French is a second language for many Leymenois. French local bureaucracy is certainly worse organized. Alli had gone to the Post Office in Leymen before Christmas to buy stamps for our Christmas cards, and was informed grumpily that she was asking for more than their entire supply of stamps.
We were invited to an imaginative party by our neighbors Simon, Marian and Nicole. It started with a collective afternoon walk in the woods above the village, continued through a traditional High Tea featuring tea, scones, cakes, sweetmeats, cheeses and other delicacies, and moved flawlessly into a splurging evening buffet meal, with live musical interludes featuring Simon and his hand-picked quintet, and ended with a swagger-stagger back to our house after midnight. A local promotion encouraged us to go with our friends the Barnes and the Thouins to a very good dinner at the Boeuf Noir in Hesingue. A few days later Alli and I were again together at the Restaurant Rossli in Biel-Benken for Valentine’s day, followed quickly by Alli “at home” playing hostess and gin rummy with a dozen other expatriate Mums, some of whose husbands joined me in putting the world to rights over fried carp and white wine in L’Ange, elsewhere in the village.
My cousin Christopher celebrated his 60th birthday over a long weekend at our house, to which we also invited five of his closest friends. The culmination of the weekend was an excellent dinner at the Couronne d’Or, offered by Christopher for us and his friends, who came from England and Poland to celebrate his birthday. Christopher had come with us the previous night to dinner in the Wirtshaus Zur Saege, in Fluh with about 10 other expatriate couples in a get-together organized by the Barnes. I took Christopher and his friends on Sunday to the Crossroads church in Basel, where I had once been a regular. It was a good sermon and a good service, complementing the weekend very well. We spent the next day in central Basel, inspected the Munster, crossed the Rhein on the ferry, and had lunch in Riehen, thus missing a carnival parade in Leymen, of which we saw the sodden detritus on the way back. As the rain continued to pour, we visited the extraordinary Basilica and grotto chapel at the nearby village of Mariastein.
I have spent long hours trying to make an internet radio receive BBC radio and to sort out our main computer after it developed a fault which deleted ten years of accumulated files and emails (briefly regretted, then forgotten in an instant). The wireless network reception in our house is not good and the continuing IT difficulties featured visits of computer specialists, questions to German chat rooms, repeated encounters with technological brick walls and sudden blue screens and brain dumps. I began to get a dim understanding for the weird world of the radio nerd, with its bit streams, gate arrays, binary sequences and UDP packets, and the certain knowledge that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. And all because The Lady wants to listen to BBC Radio 2 in the kitchen…
My knee continues to improve following some rather indifferent physiotherapy but I still cannot run properly, cycle or play tennis so I don’t know yet whether I will eventually need surgery on an already operated knee. A renewed visit to the doctor beckons. I am frustrated by not being able to walk without a wince even though I cannot honestly say that my knee hurts much of the time. Perfectly fit, Gwen has been playing basketball for the ISB, as has the equally fit Ella, who again vice-captained the school team to the finals in a tournament in Zurich. Ella also took part in (and helped to organize)a weekend-long session of the Model United Nations at the school. This is an admirable scholastic initiative simulating the United Nations in which participants engage in role-play as diplomats representing a nation or NGO or journalists in a committee of the United Nations, such as the Security Council or the General Assembly. Ella has also been doing her mock IB exams and has obtained very good results, confirming her high chances of being accepted by the English university of her choice.
Robert Apps my cousin died last month after a courageous and spirited fight against the cancer from which he had suffered for several years. He had become an Australian citizen just a month ago. As his partner Caroline Black has written, “Rob was stoic to the end, maintaining his dry humour and consistently meeting the challenge of each day and occasion.” We were so glad to have had the opportunity of welcoming him to our house for dinner last summer.
I was given some knitted ear warmers by Jessie’s thoughtful friend Bailey, for use when I make it back onto the bike on colder mornings. I uploaded on Facebook a picture of myself wearing them when the Barnes came over to present them to me and the photo has now become a minor viral classic.
Yours, waving frantically from the bitstream,
Lionel and Earwarmers
Christopher Elston on his 60th birthday, Leymen