It has been a big month for travelling, featuring a major Stanbrook family holiday to New York and a trip with Alli to Rome, as well as several far less enjoyable business visits on my own.
New York City – a first for Alli and the children. They hardly knew what to expect, but feedback indicates that all had an unforgettable time. I was determined that we should all do a lot of the things that make New York such an extraordinary experience – you know the sort of thing: sleep in the subway, poke slow-walking people in the small of the back, bray loudly across crowded floors, wait in querulous queues, that sort of thing. Instead we went against conventional advice and shinned up the Empire State building (no queues), enjoying the clear spring day as we wandered around the open air balcony on the 86th floor. We also visited famous diners, kosher delis, muffin houses, Texas barbecue joints (would you like a train-crash of fries with that Sir?) and consumed particularly memorable meals in Chinatown and the Upper West side. Not least, we (they) went shopping shopping shopping, not stopping even as I was sobbing sobbing sobbing.
We had a good basic hotel located in mid town and we were able to walk to many places that we wanted to see or experience, such as Times Square, where we enjoyed a meal at the Hard Rock Café and where Gwen found to her delight a whole shop entirely devoted to M&Ms. Gwen and I also made it on a sunny day to Central Park where we wandered around and inspected the rather forlorn animals in the children’s zoo. We all picked a rainier day to be conveyed around the southern end of Central Park for twenty minutes on a horse-drawn charabanc – the conductor pointing out items of movie-related (rather than historical) interest. A bit worryingly, such directions are also the stock in trade of New York’s cabbies and doormen, who can tell you where a scene in Home Alone 3 was filmed but not the name of the native tribe that first inhabited Manhattan before the world jostle-joined them on the island.
One big revelation were the New Yorkers themselves who seemed all to have gone to Charm School since I was last there. They would offer directions if we even so much as fingered the city maps in our pocket. This contrasted very strongly with my first experience of a New Yorker, all of 34 years ago, namely a policeman who told me to get lost when I asked him for directions. This time we got way-laid by people rushing up to just wish us all a great holiday and where were we guys headed because they heard all five of us arguing vigorously about where we were going. We walked around in this assisted way through most of Greenwich Village, Little Italy, SoHo and Battery Park, not to mention other places mapped but not always recognized. It was this visit that made me realise how little I actually knew about this big friendly city, even though I have been there probably more than half a dozen times, but not at leisure over several days since my first visit in 1973. We took the Staten Island Ferry to and from Staten Island and we visited MOMA and the Museum of Natural History (yep, the one featured in “Night at the Museum”). Did I say that we did a lot of shopping? We did a lot of shopping. My credit rating is now splintered and splattered on the dark wall of debt. Near the end of our stay I was desperately flipping through the tourist guide for details of free visits and tours, and so we closed our sojourn with a tour of Sony’s technology experience with just a fistful of single dollars in my pocket. We also went to two Broadway shows and thoroughly enjoyed them. We even found time to meet three of my best and longest-standing friends from New York and I was eye-misted proud to show them my family at last. Our holiday was a great moment and we all want to come back. Actually Jessie and I nearly didn’t make it at all to begin with because one of our passports was missing when we arrived at the airport, but luckily Jessie and I managed to get on the same flight the next day. The loss of a day hardly mattered, somehow, in the overall experience that we all had.
Alli and I also went to Rome for five days, barely four days after arriving back from the USA. It was a different experience of course, but we walked hand in hand around the Forum and the Vatican and the Coliseum and most of Rome’s centre. It was a good way to celebrate my half-century, as we saw inside the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica for the first time and some other attractions for the first time for nearly twenty years. The wonders of the antiquities and the delights of the victuals managed to overcome the horrors of the hotel that we had chosen.
Back in Basel, Gwen has been winning medals in the swimming pool again, a first and a second this year at the school’s gala, and enjoying the sheer and ineffable pleasure of beating the boys. Ella was surprised one evening by a friend’s Mum who called at our house for the sole purpose of giving Ella a big bouquet of flowers. Ella had earlier that day comforted a classmate who was being teased at school and his Mum wanted to show her gratitude. Ella had portrayed the event to us just a while earlier as merely seeking to correct a misunderstanding between kids but Alli and I were hugely proud of our thoughtful and kind daughter who showed the qualities with which we both want our children to be endowed. And with similar reports finding their way to us, it looks as if all our children seem to posess this characteristic. How enormously lucky we are.
The School put on an excellent musical show: A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. The Stanbrook presence here was provided by Jessie playing the cornet confidently for the almost continuous musical accompaniment of a show that lasted over two hours (an effort for which she also duly received a bouquet of flowers). Despite its name, this musical has more to do with the Roman theatre than is often realised. Jokes on stage about sex and bedroom farces didn’t of course start with Brian Rix – they were already well established by the time of Plautus and the satirical tradition over 2,200 years ago.
Bonnie has been on heat most of the month, and so Alli and I have shooed and shoved away dogs of different shapes and sizes with their tongues hanging out and their peckers up. Barry, the big butch Swiss St Bernard´s (or whatever it is) from the farm over a kilometre away has been swooning and moping and flopping around our garden at irregular intervals and our neighbour’s dog (Linus) has been keeping his owner awake at night with his urgent yearnings, his mournful maw inconsolable in the knowledge that his hitherto playful and Platonic relationship with Bonnie will just have to remain unrequited.