We welcomed the New Year with our customary annual family gathering on our balcony to watch the fireworks of Oberwil and in the excellent company of our friends Nigel, Andrea and their family, who had done us the honour of a visit from England over the long weekend. On the second day I noticed that Nigel had started stealthily to make his way through my wardrobe due to the non-arrival of their baggage from Heathrow. Luckily the wherewithal did arrive after a while but it was a close call. I was full of admiration for Nigel’s restraint on the phone to the employees of BA or BAA or BABAR or whomever has been responsible for turning Heathrow into the Fall of Saigon over the past few weeks. Jessie and I were quickly back to England to watch West Ham play Fulham at Upton Park and were well cared for by our friends the Tallis Locks of Forest Gate. The match, a 3-3 draw, provided the experience of being in the centre of a multimedia operatic fanfaronade of songs, chants, rhythmic clapping and choruses, mostly of the ultra-profane variety, but endlessly entertaining – the Hebrew Slaves sing Freddy Mercury with a chorus line of 35,000 Cockneys, all of whom spontaneously knew the precise parentage details of the referee and his assistants. Truly the crowd was the entertainment – the absurd antics on the pitch hardly provided distraction from the rich multiphonic experience of sitting amongst the East End’s longest suffering faithful in full voice on a cold day in January. Talking of music, I went with the girls to the Fratellis concert in Zurich and with Alli to the Rondo Veneziano in Basel. The concerts were a bit different from each other, to say the least.
Although snow at last fell handsomely in Basel in the fourth week of the month, there had been a minor smattering in the Alps and we trundled down to Grindelwald one Saturday early in the month, primarily to provide Ella and Gwen with an opportunity to get some skiing practice. I was unable to join them when, rather farcically, I failed to get my ski boots on and was hit by a sudden slap of the flu, but the day was a good one on the whole and we decided that we would return again to Grindelwald once I had worked out how to don my boots. Ella has been breaking records at school in shooting basketballs, and scored 21 baskets in a minute, which I thought sensational.
Jessie’s personal project, on which she has been working for the best part of a year, is nearing completion and is looking like a great accomplishment. Last year she decided to design, compose and write a beginner’s piano book for young children. It came as a proof from the printers and looked just like a proper book. Illustrated by Gwen and some of her friends, it will now be tested on some youthful volunteers and the whole project will be presented publicly along with all the other projects from the same year at the school in a few weeks time. Gwen has also been engaged on a great project and is working hard on a magnum opus, a long story provisionally entitled The Adventure Begins, which is already several hundred words long. She invited a local artist to illustrate the book and he promptly agreed, although I understand that there has been no discussion yet about remuneration. On one Saturday Gwen and I went for a very long walk of several kilometers around Basel, using trams and buses at a whim and generally being explorers. We started with a tram into town, then took a long walk along the south bank of the Rhine then boarded a bus bound for St Jakob where we walked through the sports fields, reaching the Grun 80 park and checking out the enormous dinosaur erected by the pond. We then decided to visit a friend of ours with a broken leg in the Bruderholz hospital before coming back home nearly four hours after we set out. Of note is that Gwen insisted on wearing her Heelies for the whole outing. Heelies are trainers equipped with wheels on the heels. The weather throughout our excursion was akin to a warm day in May – no wonder that blossom has been appearing on our shrubs in the garden and hedgehogs have been seen to amble cautiously around the flowerpots.
Our friends the Gardners visited us at the end of the month. The visit coincided with a major fall of snow and so limited some of our options, but we went to a snow-swept Rheinfelden and looked around the town centre before heading north into Germany and sampling a friendly hostelry at the south end of the Black Forest. We also went for careful walks with Bonnie on the ice and sludge, and Gwen and I went toboganning on the hills around Therwil. A particularly convivial dinner was had at the Couronne d’Or, a restaurant in the French village of Leymen next to the border. Alli and I will return, as it offered much of what we like in a restaurant and, what is more, allows dogs.