We have all been spending more time in the garden as the salad days have now officially started. The huge pile of garden debris, sticks, branches, assorted foliage, bamboo poles and other random rustic jetsam, which had been stacked in our parking bay for several weeks, were on the 8th June inst. reduced to a pile of small wood chips by the local commune and left on the grassy verge. The sheer tidiness of this civic arrangement encouraged me to keep coming back to the large bush in the middle of the upper part of our garden which last year was almost impossible to cut back or even prune without placing scaffolding around and about it. Last year I had only succeeded in creating from it two large and connected green blobs but earlier this year I had divided the bush completely in two by the simple expedient of hacking my way through it, as I imagine intrepid explorers used to do. I found a tell-tale tree stump right in the middle of the bush. But far from killing the bush – as I had once feared – I now realise that I probably had not, in retrospect, cut it back enough. There was still plenty to do before this bush-baby was going to be tamed. My much fitter health fanatic neighbour often helps me on the occasions he sees me around the garden: more, I suspect, from pity than duty, but we make a good team together when we work with each other clearing away the incessant undergrowth in our linked garden made practically communal by our children. Matters have progressed further in this frenetic growing season and I am now constructing little paths through the parts of the hedge that remained from my earlier decortication.
The Knie circus has been in town, and they set up as usual near to where I work. One morning along the side of the Messeplatz I walked past all the methodical but busy and precise preparations going on at. It was fascinating and impressive to see a very densely populated building area, scurried and harried by strong and old-fashioned looking men (many with twirly moustaches) raising tents or lashing cords or digging holes. There was no part of the scene that did not include a fine upstanding figure working to put something up or drag something across or generally help to create the fine Swiss cultural tradition that is the Knie circus. There was also no part of the scene that could not have been an exact copy of what would have been done a hundred years ago, since I could neither see nor hear any mechanical or electrical activity. It’s easy to understand the powerful lure of behind the scenes at the circus.
The World Cup has been difficult to avoid and the children have been excited by England’s matches. There were St George’s flags up all over our lounge, many designed expertly by Gwen and including slogans such as “You can do it, England”, “England are definitely the best” and so on. These have now come down.
We are starting to have teenagers staying the night at the weekends and this can get quite amusing. I was told off by Alli one morning at 1130am for playing music in the living room because the music might wake up Jessie’s friends who were still asleep. I told her that it was our house and we (I) should be able to play music in the morning come what may. I really felt quite indignant. One by one they later emerged blinking against the morning light like pit ponies emerging from the bowels of the earth. They had come back extremely late the previous night (1.30am upon enquiry) from a rock concert on the other side of town. Staggering unsteadily and unsightedly across the room they managed one by one to make it over to the three piece suite where they all lay down again and went back to sleep. Eventually they had breakfast and started to watch MTV, followed by some spirited music-making in the basement on guitars and drums.
All the children have continued to find success at school in different areas and the school reports about them this year have been very good. Gwen’s sports day recently was a big success. She won her races although was disappointed that girls and boys no longer race together. Such competitive instincts do not extend to older classes at the school where sports day consists of softball, netball and other non-competitive exercises. A musical concert held recently at the school was excellent although chaotic, featuring the pupils of the drums and guitar teachers. Ella played (lead guitar) especially well – she is improving all the time on the electric guitar – and Jessie was as rock-steady as ever on the drums. Jessie has also taken her Grade 6 Music theory test, and I was amazed by the extent of her knowledge as she was preparing for it. The test requires her to do basic orchestration, to recognize beats and keys and transpose songs into different keys. Results are expected soon.
I was in Helsinki, Finland on the longest day of the year when in fact there is no darkness at night at all. This was a little unnerving, and I wondered just how strange it must be at the other end of the year when, presumably, it never gets light. A more interesting sojourn was made last week to the popular Europapark in Rust, Germany where Ella and her friend went accompanied by Alli, Gwen and me, in an early birthday treat for Ella. Ella has completely lost her fear of scary rides and tried all the best and highest rides in the park. We all had an excellent time and it confirmed our view that Europapark is a lot better than Euro-Disney. Apparently we were there on the same day as the Visit of the England Football Wives.
We have had a spate (or should that be a spit?) of barbecues, with mixed results. On each of our first two barbecues of the month, the sky darkened as I lit the coals and it pelted with rain before the barbecue got going, turning ultimately into a tropical rain storm. On the first occasion I had to protect the barbecue from being soaked though and so put a plastic green weed bag partly over the open funnel of our (chimenea) barbecue as I tried to cook the sausages. The sausages did get cooked just as I got soaked. I finished cooking at exactly the time that the fire was at its hottest and the rain was at its most intense. I forgot at that point – after delivering the sausages – to take the green weed bag away from the top and so it burnt through and is no longer a weed bag. On another barbecue Alli handed me the raw meat after proclaiming to our guests that these were the best steaks that money could buy in Switzerland. I then went through a charade of asking everyone how they wanted their meat cooked. Whatever they said (mostly “medium-to-rare please”) they all got well-to-charred. Henceforth we have stuck to sausages and burgers. Our barbecue last weekend produced, in my own unbiased view, well cooked meat and furthermore I did not ask anyone how they would have liked it.