Graduation Trailer Whoopee
What a month to witness, savor and remember! What a gurgling gaggling bubbling reverberating stream of sheer hyper-super-activity it all was! In thirty days we filled and packed a whole album shelf of freshly made memories: we entertained multiple relatives, friends and hangers-on; Ella took and finished her school exams; Jessie graduated from school altogether; Jessie and I led a collective teenage visitation of La Hune, our holiday home in the Tarn-et-Garonne; Alli and I sold our house in the UK (on its own a rare and unnatural achievement) and we started the process of buying another in France; Jessie had an 18th birthday bash near the zoo; Alli received a gratifying result from some hospital tests; Ella went hiking in the Vosges, we wandered amongst commedia players in a Jura village, dawdled by the Doubs, walked along the Wiese, sauntered around the Sundgau and ambled through the Alsace with varying permutations of relatives, animals and friends.
For our lodger dog Tequila it was also a dramatic month, with two major operations on her leg and hip, the vet opting to leave one of her legs simply to trail behind her but also to leave her a couple of weeks’ short of dog-painkillers. She passed a weekend with us in evident agony. There followed a couple of days of despair when she seemed even to lose the will to live, and we did not see her for two weeks after she went back to the vet. But by the end of the month she had returned and seemed even to have started a recovery, despite still not having much use of her hind legs.
Ella finished her exams, the equivalent of O levels, marking the end of the Middle Years Program. She is expecting her results imminently. After finishing, she promptly went off hiking in the Vosges with school-friends from her grade as part of a Duke of Edinburgh-type Outward Bound scheme (the bronze award) and came back to pronounce that although she had enjoyed parts of the sojourn she still had no understanding of why people hiked and camped as a conscious leisure choice.
The first weekend of June was a memorable one, with the official graduation from the International School of Basel of Jessie and the concurrent visit of the Nick Miles family (without Helen) of Graz to witness the event, as well as Gwen’s sports day at school. Jessie’s graduation (5th June) consisted of a formal ceremony, a dinner and a magnificent celebration in music and pictures in which she also performed in a brass band as well as on the piano with her close friends Kate and Jenna. Jessie also had her delayed birthday party on the following day, of which we did not actually see much. As barely tolerated parents it was our lot to be granted a couple of drinks and kept to a corner for the allotted time of around half an hour at the start of the proceedings. The party was a highlight of the social season, one of the events of the days of their (and our) lives. As well as the munificent Miles of Graz, Jessie’s friend Jenny Talbot came from England as did David Massey, whose choice of sleeping habits, venue and timetable earned him the soubriquet the Body in the Basement. Gwen had a busy weekend, going to a rock-climbing party in Weil-am-Rhein in Germany. We forgot that she also had a party on the next day and so she and I instead took Bonnie along the banks of the Wiese, starting from Lange Erlen. This happy dog-strewn stroll is becoming a Sunday morning family tradition and always features a long and unruly procession of happily tail-wagging dogs of different shapes, sizes and tempers.
The Sunday night after Graduation saw the beginning of a week in our French holiday house for myself, Jessie and fifteen of her friends and two other dads. I drove Jessie and five of her friends down in a journey in our car that took around five hours longer than it should have done. It was a very tough trip, as I had elected to drive through the night. The tom-tom had been turned down to avoid waking the sleeping pulchritude of teenagerhood in the back of the car through the small hours, but this led to my missing an important turning, and the wee machine then could not comprehend that we did not want to go back to an unexpectedly barred route. Once off the motorway we erred around the countryside in the vicinity of Vichy in the middle of the night, six teenagers sprawled asleep in the car, Jessie bravely half awake in the front seat, trying to keep me company as, bidden by the tom-tom and, stupidly map-less, I turned into smaller and smaller roads until my headlights nightmarishly revealed that I was attempting to climb a rocky cart track (with high grass growing in the centre of the road) and was losing speed fast as the trailer with all the cases bumped around behind me. I stopped the car, feeling more than a slight sense of panic, and told everybody to get out while I made sure that the car actually made it to the crest of a hill that would reveal, for all I knew, a complete dead end and nowhere to turn around.
Luckily this proved to be a turning point of a different type, and from there the roads became a little easier to negotiate in the black night. The tom-tom gradually but slowly brought me back to a recognizable route, although I had a bad shock at one point as a wild boar suddenly lumbered out across the road and was hit by the car, I shouting out with shock and thus again waking the teenagers from their sprawled beauty-sleep. Looking back I could see no body in the road or by the verge so I motored on, satisfied also by the evidence of a pristine bumper that nothing life-threatening had occurred. A couple of hours later in the early morning, and, the trailer suddenly suffered a flat tire, blowing out as we travelled at high speed along the motorway just an hour from our destination. My plug spanners could not cope and we were rescued by a break-down service. It was another three hours or so before I managed to drive my polite young passengers to La Hune at long last to start their valedictory week together. The other Dads with their loads turned up just four hours or so later in their gleaming air-conditioned vehicles after an easy trouble-free run having started out early in the morning from Basel and so were well rested and quite irritatingly perky.
It was an interesting week for us Dads – we felt like old faithful retainers in the servants’ quarters while the privileged youth in the manor house opposite made whoopee, or whatever it was they were doing. We got together occasionally, mostly while ferrying them to and from the shops, local towns, the honey museum, markets and other local attractions. We did not know how the week went for our daughters and their friends outside the evidence of the subsequent thank you letters and comments, but we Dads also made sure we had a good time so we ate and drank well even while one Dad was on a permanent search for internet access and a mobile phone network. We occasionally stole into the manor house unseen to steal wine and cakes while the whoopee was at its height.
We have sold our house in Sussex, England, and therefore the way is clear to buy the house of Alli’s dreams in Leymen, France. Her wish is ever my command, more or less. There are, as I have sagely remarked, still some bridges to be crossed before these dreams are realized, such as the owner’s sudden memory lapse about our verbal agreement on the sale price, the variable strength of the pound sterling, and an unexpectedly high price tag on the fixtures and fittings. But we walked around the place once more last week and it is getting difficult to stop imagining ourselves in the house.
Amidst all this we attended an excellent school concert featuring performances by both Jessie and Ella and which finished with a flourish by the exceptional Big Brass Band coached by Mr Cervenka who gave an emotional speech at the end of the concert praising his students, including Jessie, whom he had well taught over the past five years. Our wanderings around the Basel area were prompted by the visit of Alli’s parents, who, as ever, left our house in better shape than when they arrived. Notices are now stuck on assorted house fittings to warn the casual passer-by not to use them as they are precarious. Better precarious than broken. The month ended in a sequence of sustained Scrabble playing, although the perplexing absence of the words “bra” and “oik” in the two-volume 2,700 page Shorter Oxford Dictionary threw me into existential uncertainty. Now bereft of the guiding star I may as well use Websters as a more accurate guide to vernacular English.
Jessie’s ISB friends in Auvillar, 2009
Jessie and Ella, Basel, 2009