The expression “making hay while the sun shines” was first recorded in English usage in the early 16th century. It was particularly meaningful this year, as the long-awaited improvement in the weather prompted the first cut of the long grass in the Wolfsloch field next to our garden. In medieval times, forecasting the weather was a lot more difficult than it is now; farmers needed to have dry weather for several days in a row to get through the manual stages of cutting, drying, collecting and stacking the hay because these stages had to be in sequence. However, they could not start until the ground and the grass were dry and could not continue unless they remained dry throughout the process. Any rain would ruin the ungathered hay. Now, despite the help of modern machinery and satellites, it still takes three clear days, during which the farmer has to hope that it won’t rain. It shows just how bad the weather has been, that three dry days in a row had not been predicted since the end of April, when the time frame to make a first pass starts. By this time in a typical year, there would have been at least two cuts in the Wolfsloch field. So in early July the farmer at last made the first hay of the season while the sun shone and Alli promptly reintroduced herself to the sun lounger after a most unwelcome delay. I had plenty of work to do, including presenting a webinar on business English and a presentation on the skill of the “précis”, as I knew it at school. Thus the repetitive exercise of the précis in dusty 1960s North Oxford classrooms now powers my new-found high-flown profession in the 20-teens.
Alli joined me and about sixty others for an entertaining camping weekend in the wooded hills near Ligsdorf in the Sundgau, on a dress code of “German” (with which few complied). Alli’s unexpected willingness to go camping was based on an unjustified confidence in my ability to pitch a reasonable tent and make comfortable sleeping arrangements. As it turned out, I succeeded, despite having to hammer tent pegs into the couple of millimetres’ depth of topsoil on the Vosges granite ledge near the Birgmatte at 700 metres. The only hitch was that following an afternoon featuring a brass band, a folk band, the local Morris dancers and a few spots of rain, the evening was cold and got colder the more we gathered around the campfire, shivering despite a sociable meal of suckling pigs, tuna steaks, home brewed beer, and chickpea salads. On the morrow, the sun rose strong and clear, promising a hot day, although we all left after a roistering breakfast of eggs and bacon, croissants and clear-up.
We had the Barneses to supper one evening while the fire saucer, on its first outing of the season, and thanks to Jasper’s enthusiastic assistance, quickly burned all the thuya and beech cuttings from my afternoon’s work trimming hedges. The next day we went to an enjoyable barbecue in Hesingue with Peter, Silvano, and the smaller Sandbachs of Ferrette. This lunch featured an excellent gazpacho, grilled meat, fish and fine wines, and IPA from England.
Gwen, Chicago, July 2016
Gwen came for a weekend to see her friend Megan, but spent several hours and one night stranded by Easyjet in Gatwick when the plane took off three hours late but then turned around after five minutes to land back again due to a fault without making proper arrangements for those on the flight. Undaunted, she survived a chaotic night and morning of scrambled taxis and general confusion before getting here, leaving her just one night to spend with us and Megan. She came back the following Friday in order to be at Zurich airport the following morning for a flight to Chicago where she is staying for a month with her friend Hunter. She has a voluntary internship at Mercy for Animals, an organization that campaigns strongly for the protection of farmed animals. I took her to Zurich airport at 5.30am, and a few hours later I was taking Alli to Basel airport to catch a flight to Mykonos in Greece, where she spent some days with Ella over Ella’s 23rd birthday.
Alli and Ella, Mykonos, July 2016
The opportunity was made possible when Sam tragically couldn’t get permission from work to take the holiday that he and Ella had already booked, so Alli stepped up selflessly. Her frequent text references to Shirley Valentine during the week had me checking what the 74-year old Tom Conti is up to these days.
I spent much of the week sweltering at home in temperatures that at times were higher than those in Greece. The dogs only ventured out for their prescription walks, but they disliked the heat and spent the day in the shade or inside. I spent a very agreeable evening at the village’s Bal Tricolore, celebrating the 14 juillet just a day after the tragic and murderous incident in Nice. The event featured a large barbecue, a local brass band (photo above), and late night dancing. The extreme weather didn’t last, and when Alli returned, grey clouds were again massing, although it continued to be shirt-changingly humid. I pottered around in the garden doing many of the tasks that the severe heat had dissuaded me from doing earlier. This included staking the tomatoes, cutting back the burgeoning greenery, planting out carrots, and taking two stères of logs from the woods and stacking them by the house. For the task I used Galahad, still going strong if more jerky than perky after 250,000 kilometres, and refusing to retire despite being all of 19 years’ old (that’s about 95 in car years). The swimming pool has been suffering again from the dastardly yellow algae as it had the previous year, and after several applications of shocking chemicals we were finally forced to drain it completely and refill it, just in time for the thunderous return of intermittent rain.
Yours in torrents,