I was dreading my visit to the village Post Office to get stamps for our Christmas cards from the po-faced lady at the counter: she has never been helpful with my innovative requests. At the weekend I had posted some letters with Swiss stamps in a French post box. Alli told me I had to get the letters back before they were collected or they might be destroyed for not being French, er, letters. So, after failing to get an indication from Mme Po-face as to when the letters would be collected (the official times given on the box are complete fictions) I kicked my heels for half a morning outside the post office waiting for the collection, entertained only by watching the schoolchildren run screeching around the yard and the village ladies glide in and out of the car park, petite in their darkwindow bigstupid cars. From my vantage point at the epicenter of the village, the little yellow van of the jolly rotund post-lady could occasionally be seen darting in and out, accelerating, slowing and reversing jerkily around the village drives and letter boxes throughout the morning like an impatient autumnal bee. Finally, flushed and sweating, she arrived to empty the postbox against which I was leaning. I was so relieved so see her at last that I planted a big smacker on her rosy cheek as I took back the letters. I later posted them from a Swiss post box a few hundred meters up the road. I suppose the jolly post-lady promptly told her story of the effusive Englishman to Madame Po-face inside the office, whose view of me has completely changed as a consequence. When I came in a couple of days later with my complicated festive order, she cheerily complied, complimented me on the way the letters were sorted into different countries and even offered to help me lick the stamps for the envelopes. Who knows what else she might have offered had I stayed longer, the little minx?
There might have been a disastrous end to the story because one of the envelopes referred to above contained concert tickets for Ella in England and was so delayed that Ella might not have been able to attend the comedian Howard Russell in concert in Birmingham, despite having paid for the tickets. A flurry of signing and scanning and emailing signatures sorted that out. In another irritating interlude, my French current account lost over 4000 euros in three days because someone used the number of my credit card to go on an online spending spree. Nothing was more amazing than the behavior of the bank which did nothing for three days after I told them after the first sign of fraud. They just officially shrugged and reimbursed the money. Ouai, ca passe toujours.
Our Christmas holiday saw the return from University of our prodigal daughters Jessie and Ella. This year we have made the change into a third age in which the assumption is that we stay at home and hope that our adult children come to visit us. Without other visitors, apart from our lodger dogs Tequila and Posh Bertie it was a quieter Christmas, although we went to several parties hosted by others and we gave one ourselves. It was our Kwanzaa party, the Swahili term for the general festive season, yuletide or whatever else people choose to call that socially awkward gap between the saints Stephen and Sylvester. We also saw the best English Christmas panto in Basel for years, Treasure Island. The gift haul between us all was as imaginative as ever, with a common theme of concert tickets, gutscheine and proofs of purchase – I was given tickets for the Jay Hawks concert in London by Jessie and Ella, and Ella had tickets to see Malcolm McIntyre, while Jessie received a sewing machine and Gwen an ice cream making machine. Some of the presents, reflecting the family’s increasingly globalized status, were photographs or documentary proofs of themselves, the originals being elsewhere.
We drained our septic tank (well, actually someone else did) and some super-efficient gardeners cleared, tidied and revived our garden in a series of backbreaking tasks which would have taken me weeks of suffering, aches, pains and complaints. We also took delivery of a pool table, gifted by a generous friend, and with my friend Neil’s help, we moved it to the top floor of our house into Gwen’s room. The table was quickly in use the next day when Gwen had her ‘pirate’ birthday party. I arranged a treasure hunt for Gwen’s friends, ensuring that everyone spent at least two hours tramping around in the wet fields near the house searching for clues written in iambic pentameters. They came back to hot dogs, crisps and cup cakes with rice paper labels illustrated by the faces of the boys in One Direction. For the record, Harry was the most eaten. I just don’t know how Zane, Liam, Louis and Niall can cope with this.
This is Gwen’s favorite month, as it features both Christmas and her birthday (the only day of the year when she eats meat). This year it also featured the definitive removal of braces from her teeth, so her smile was in abundant evidence afterwards. We also had our lodger dogs, Bertie and Tequila, who don’t like each other very much, so they kept out of each other’s way (Bonnie gets on with almost everyone). Hurricane gusts and tempestuous winds assailed us and the house in mid-December, wreaking havoc and damage in the garden. Our trampoline, at the height of the storm, lifted itself from the ground and hurled itself against the glass side of the pool house. We were extraordinarily fortunate that the first point of contact was the guttering. Being made of solid copper it took the full force like a Hummer bumper which crumpled but nothing else was damaged.
As jobs are harder to find than an odorless camel, a new Swiss company called Clement Reputation GmbH rises, a phoenix on heat. Odd metaphors, granted, but as I add my googleplus, log onto my logo, hook up my linkedIn, spin a new web site, fill up myspace, wash my facebook, scope my skype, wipe my beak and tweet, even stranger similes and metaphors obtrude. As an entrepreneur (the practice for which the French have no name) I feel obliged to give full company details below in expectation of plenty business.
We all wish you a very happy Christmastide, Kwanzaa and New Year,
Jessie at Smurf Party, Brighton, December 2011
Bonnie, Leymen, December 2011
Ella, Leymen, December 2011
Gwen, Leymen, December 2011
Gwen ‘s 13th birthday party, December 2011