It was great to welcome Ella and Sam here for a few days. They spent some quality time at home playing Monopoly, throwing darts and tasting whiskies with our neighbor Jeff (after watching the plucky Spurs edge it against QPR). They also went to Basel, the Herbstmesse and ice skating, and one sunny morning took a brisk walk with me to and from the Landskron Castle with Bonnie and Max. Alli was overjoyed at having a perfect excuse to cook some serious meat dishes, and so from the kitchen during their stay flowed laden trolleys of large English breakfasts, Sunday roast lamb, plates of spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, paté and many other sweet meats. After Ella and Sam left, it rained all through the night and most of the next day. I first thought it was the apocalyptic rain of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude but the heavy weather lasted not five years but just 24 hours. We all felt under it for quite a while.
On the second weekend, I druv one English and three Swiss friends around the ancient county of Sussex on a mini-tour that I had been planning for some months. We flew to Gatwick, took the train to Brighton and started with an excellent dinner at Browns in Duke Street, then after looking around the Pavilion the next morning, dodging the wind-blown seagulls, and walking through the North Laine, druv to Lewes and inspected the 11th century castle and barbican located a few steps from our hotel. In the evening we went to a local fireworks celebration, and although there were less then the 80,000 people who had been in Lewes on the Wednesday past, there were still miles of parked cars along the roads around the bonfire, and hundreds of people attending. The English weather had reasserted itself and, soaking from a two-hour precipitation, we returned to the hotel after the processions. This included burning crosses, medieval sackcloth, lace, curses, toffee apples, drums, pipes and trumpets, all amidst the slapping rain and the steam wafting from the peaty Sussex mud. On the Sunday morning we drove via the Long Man of Wilmington and St Andrew’s Church in Alfriston, rode on the oh-so-60s BR train of the Lavender Line in Isfield, and lunched with several pints of Harvey’s and fish pie at the Laughing Fish Inn. From there we had a bizarre pit-stop at the Llama Center (the inmates were clearly in charge) then walked through the Ashdown Forest to play pooh sticks on Pooh Bridge before billeting in a crazy hotel in Forest Row where the food was good and the service eager to please but utterly hopeless.
Lionel in a BR train carriage, Isfield, Sussex, November 2014
The tensile weekend over, I pushed the style button and went to dinner at Colbert in Sloane Square with Mike and his partner Marie Pauline, her daughter and attached friend. I used a Barclays bike to get to Sloane Square, which was certainly the quickest way to get there from Battersea on a crowded and rainy West London evening. I also joined them at the River Quarter in Battersea for breakfast the next morning to celebrate Mike’s birthday, with balloons on the table and a stunning urban view along the Thames with the tide stretched out. I went on from London to Istanbul, where I spoke at a research conference about language and reputation, and stayed in a tiny studio flat in the Balat quarter, with a great view of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. I was also in earshot of the shriek of seagulls (last heard earlier in Brighton), and the arresting, mystical calls to prayer from nearby mosques, the first just as I came out onto the roof terrace. I was unable, however, to escape the rain, which had pursued me from England, and I spent a lot of time tramping wet around the city. But it was a welcome change of background and I did get a very good haircut, so I’m told.
We have three more chickens to add to our remaining two, and they were flying over the fence before giving us any eggs, so the mole catcher came and clipped their wings before I even got back from Istanbul. As a rat catcher, he has also been ensnaring some unwelcome rodents near the chicken run, although the first bewildered (and unharmed) captive turned out to be one of the tortoiseshell kittens from next door. I enlarged the run considerably so that the chickens could feast on the last of our purple-flowering Brussels sprout plants. A few days later, I looked up from my desk and saw an enormous and hirsute wild boar lumbering across the sunlit Wolfsloch field in front of our house, and understood why our dogs become hunters whenever we let them out of the house.
My mobile phone has long been out of action, thanks to the incompetence of the phone company, Sunrise, who offered an Orwellian contract called “Freedom”, after my futile request to terminate the contract when both the phone and the service turned out to be not only extortionate but also utterly useless. Mobile phone companies like Sunrise are no more than hi-tech robber barons. Maybe it will help that I have become, to my surprise, the Président of Leymen Loisirs, a local association of groups using the local village hall to practise their hobbies. So you can all bloody well address me from now on as Monsieur le Président. The last weekend of the month featured a magnificent concert given by the Tri-Rhenum Orchestra in Basel featuring Thilo Muster on the massive Stadtcasino organ, a delicious lunch with Dawn and Andy at La Péniche on the Canal de Huningue near Kembs, and Sunday lunch with the Kellys at L’Ange in Leymen. Next month we look forward to spending the Christmas holiday with friends and relatives in New Zealand. So it is very possible that we shall be on sunning ourselves on a beach just as this most outstanding of years for our family gives way to the next.
Alli and I wish you all a Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year.
Monsieur le Président Lionel