Gwen arrived back in Basel after spending a few days in Brighton with her friend Heather and stayed a week with us. She and Alli tipped the scales of influence on TV viewing options so I retreated upstairs to the office most evenings, although we saw some good films together on Netflix. My TV preferences are shrinking fast – to detective dramas, history, news and the occasional football match. Our swimming pool has been made ready with a new pump and filters for the spring and summer, involving a lot of work for Alli, who drew the short straw years ago when we divided up the more robust house and garden tasks, and is by dint of practice a full-fledged swimming pool engineer, chemist and maintenance operative. I secured the garden against our dogs going down the road or into the woods by an ingenious but not entirely permanent arrangement involving wooden stakes bashed into the ground and movable fence-lengths of chicken run – more Thoreau than Brico-man. It did, however, survive a major snow storm at the end of the month.
I have had an excellent experience of the French national health service after having some minor surgery on a skin condition at the local clinic. The healthcare and personal service was efficient and sensitive, and with its backdrop of rather less than shiny modern new infrastructure (and a tired cheese roll for lunch) reminded me in many ways of the hard-pressed but expert and dedicated NHS. I still have to get used to choosing from private, complementary, trans-border, supplementary, topped-up, partial and other mixed forms of health insurance payments together with their rambling highways and devious byways. After a bad-tempered row with the agent who organises and sells these add-ons to us, I can only bemoan the complexity, cost and difficulty of a system that is neither free nor transparent at the point of service, and an administration that does not align with the diligence, expertise and commitment of the health professionals. The creation of the NHS must surely stand out as one of the best UK government decisions in history. Let’s hope it stays true to its original concept and even provides a model for other countries.
The colder weather continues to deter me from using my bike to go to Basel, and I use on occasions the excellent public transport available throughout the Basel region. A Basel tram line goes straight through our own village across the border on its way back into Switzerland at the end of the line in Rodersdorf. However, one Friday afternoon I took a lift from my neighbour Martin to Allschwill where I was keen to browse through a second hand book sale. Afterwards I took a tram to the centre of Basel in order to get home on the right tramline. I then became the serial victim of a series of unfortunate misses and delays which strewed the way back with impediments. When it also started to rain, I had to ask Alli to pick me up from a nearby village. I had just missed the critical bus to Leymen, which departed from the Ettingen bus stop even as I was running towards it, eyeballing the driver and arms raised in despairing supplication. When we got back to the house, we found that our dog Max had eaten my dinner, left on the table. I said little else and accepted my lot, and the day, as one from which to move on.
The weekend that followed this was most enjoyable. The annual French Letter St George’s Dinner and Declamation was graced by sterling contributions from enthusiastic participants including the Ferrette Morris, who performed heartily and heavily in the road outside the restaurant, and several declaimers of works by Shakespeare, Holloway (Stanley), Bowie (David), Chesterton (G. K.) and Richard Stilgoe, among many others. On the following day Alli and I went on a charity walk, following a route in the rain which bedraggled us and the dogs as we waded through paddocks with horses up to their knobbly knees in muddy water. We had a comfort lunch in the village hall with the Barneses and hundreds of steaming walkers, and ended up hitting a bottle of clove wine and listening to ZZ Top back home in the blustery afternoon. At the end of the month we also walked with the Jarvises for over 10k around Cernay in the woods and vineyards. It reminded me how good a cold beer tastes after a long walk.
Jenny, Darren, Jack, Gwen, Jessie, Lionel, Sam, Ella at the Two Chairmen Pub, Westminster
The biggest family event of the month took place in London, where Jessie brilliantly and successfully ran the Marathon on a cool day with scattered sunlight, breeze and some light showers. Alli, Gwen, Ella, Sam, and I, plus Jessie’s friends Jenny, Darren, and Jack managed to find broadly the same vantage points to see Jessie as we had last year to see Ella, who with Sam had just come back from a few days in Florence, while Jenny and Darren told Jessie during a quick pit stop that Jenny was expecting a baby in October, news that helped Jessie to the finishing line. She had been dreading the run for months, but came through calm and smiling. We all recovered with an excellent and mostly meaty dinner in the The Big Easy in Covent Garden, after visiting some historic SW1 pubs, including The Two Chairmen and The Buckingham Arms, packed with runners replacing their body fluids with free coupons.
For Jessie, this achievement gave closure to months of difficult but dedicated training in Dhaka, dodging pot holes, rickshaws, goats, dogs and constant lewd comments in one of the most polluted cities in the world. She and her sponsors have raised over £1,750 for Meider Jonno Asha, a charity that educates children and teenagers in the Dhaka slums, training women in productive skills, literacy, counselling and health classes. We stayed in Jessie’s friend’s flat and with Laurie and Kay in Burgess Hill on either side of our flights. We met our friends Vanessa and her daughter Olivia for lunch in Covent Garden and revisited the Italian restaurant Bianco 43 in Northumberland Avenue for dinner, and I saw my best friends Adam and Angela for an afternoon chat, learning all about the solar system from their daughter Eleanor. On the Monday I met my mate Lionel Z in his magnificent and stately Westminster restaurant Shepherds, and David H, an excellent old friend and colleague, and squeezed a useful client visit in between. London has proved yet again to be a tremendous European experience and a tiring pleasure to visit in a great weekend for us and for Jessie’s many extraordinarily generous sponsors and supporters.
Alli, Lionel, Jessie, Ella, Gwen after the London Marathon
Yours with a carvèd dolphin,