I have been gazing out across a moist flower-bordered billiard-table lawn, blurred through the window. It’s an overcast day, 24 hours before the start of the London Marathon. The garden has broad oaks and green acres, and my father in law has given it a timely tonnage of additional nutrition that the English drizzle has already pushed lightly into the soil. The gardening year announces itself, as usual, in the plump promise of a copious quantity of vegetables, salads and fruit prompted by Laurie’s effortless spading. Back in Leymen, my spade splits more rocks than clods, and one of the spikes on my fork even broke off as I was using it. While gardening, I repeatedly throw small machinery parts and bits of concrete over the hedge and have to break up the compacted clay with a chisel. I have planted out potatoes and salads, probably far too early, and the greenhouse is teeming with small peaky plants whose growth is already stunted by crowding. And our modest patch is threatened by seventeen million dandelions threatening into bloom from the next field, with myriads of large brown-orange slugs massing directly below the vegetables ready for pustular explosion. Ah! Spring is sprung!
Alli and Gwen and I were in England for a big reason: to see Ella run in the London Marathon after months of dedicated practice in Loughborough and Pimlico. She completed the course in what appeared to be an easy canter throughout, clocking in at 4’44” and inspiring many others in the family, notably Jessie, to start training for a future marathon. She finished at the same time as the radio DJ Chris Evans, thanks to which her cool and calm finish was flashed to millions via the afternoon and evening BBC news and on iplayer (UK viewers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/…/london-marathon-2015-highlights.) Playing tag with the course and its runners along with about a million other runners’ relatives and friends, and guided by Ella’s knowledgeable boyfriend Sam and his father Pete, we dipped in and out of East End tube stations that I had never heard of, glimpsing her (and her us) at Canada Water and Canary Wharf, then at Parliament Square near the finish line. We were also able to see Sam’s mother Lynn twice during her successful run. By the end of the day I was the one struggling to stay on my feet, let alone awake, and the meeting at Horseguards of runners with spectators, the celebrations of the evening with the Chisletts (a drink or three in the Morpeth Arms on Millbank and a curry in Pimlico) all passed as a blur, while Ella and Lynn replenished their sparky selves in no time.
During Easter Saturday, Gwen was in the centre of Basel behind a makeshift stall in the pouring rain selling some delicious cakes and biscuits that she had spent the whole of Good Friday baking. She could have sold a lot more but for the incessant rain that day. Nevertheless, she handed an impressive sum of money over to an animal welfare charity as a result and was duly thanked. She has also been very active physically, kickboxing in the garage, cycling, going to the gym regularly; doing “body-pump” and Vikram yoga. Ella and Sam visited us over Easter, and although again the weather did not always provide encouragement, we were able to walk to Mariastein and then haphazardly back while following a map with no scale or coordinates. We visited Gwen at her bake sale, had lunch in St Louis, and enjoyed a Sunday roast lunch with our neighbours Jeff and Ginelle and Ginelle’s mother Joanna. On Easter Sunday, while walking the dogs, I heard the cuckoo full-throated and clear, calling in the woods. I thought high-mindedly of writing to the Times and recalled Thoreau’s brilliant text on walking, with its memorable opening line: “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil”.
After Ella and Sam left, Alli, Gwen and I flew to Rome for a mini-holiday staying with our friends Fionnuala, Evelyn and Andrew (who later also completed the London Marathon). Our first full day was a sunlit walk through the centre of Rome, starting from St Peter’s Square and proceeding along the west bank of the Tiber towards the Trastevere, visiting the beautiful piazza and church of Santa Maria, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and the Campo di Fiori before having lunch overlooking the market. We then walked through the centre near the Colosseo and the Foro Traiano, dodging the hawkers, barkers and the coloured balloons. We got back to the house with difficulty after some confusion at the railway station, which I took in my stride as an ex-Brighton line commuter. On the second day we visited the inspiring and grandiose Villa of Hadrian, the hillside town of Tivoli and the Villa d’Este, set in the stylish Tivoli Gardens. On the final morning we visited the extraordinary Ostia Antica, a town of almost 100,000 people until the 9th century, and in ruins for over a thousand years. Under the careful guidance of Fionnuala, Evelyn and Andrew, our Rome experience was transformed from our previous recollection of heaving morasses of sweaty tourists forming spontaneous virulent crowds into a leisurely, cultured and inspiring place to visit, and where we wished we could have stayed longer. The sellers of selfie sticks were a bit annoying, though.
Jessie has been busy in her spare time travelling locally and regionally. Following last month’s trip to Kuala Lumpur, she went on a three day river trip in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans, and several more bike rides and runs in and around Dhaka, including a close encounter with a baby elephant. She is visiting Bangkok this very weekend. She felt in her own flat the impact of the dreadful Nepal earthquake, and later sent us a picture of two tall buildings in Dhaka that were now leaning against each other after the tremours.
The French Letter St George’s Day Dinner in Leymen was again a full blooded affair with Morris dancers and lusty singers and declaimers of everything from folk and rugby songs to soliloquys, monologues and speeches and from Shakespeare to Stanley Holloway and Vivian Stanshall. The comments afterwards suggested that it was the liveliest and most appreciated Declamation yet for the quality of entertainment and food. The same weekend I went on the Marche des Handicappés on a fixed route around Leymen and the Foret de Waldeck, walking past the heavily wooded site of what the map termed the ruins of Waldeck Castle. On the way down the hill I collected bunches of wild garlic, which Alli promptly made into pesto sauce.
The final days of the month saw me on a sudden day trip back to Rome in my relentless quest of new clients, attending a concert of the Basel Symphony Orchestra featuring music by Beethoven, Stravinsky and Schumann, together with a fascinating talk by a musicologist about the composer Gesualdo, and an ultra-early morning start to witness once again the dance-out of the Ferrette Morris atop the Landskron Castle on a rainy May Day morning with a splendid breakfast afterwards at the house of the new Squire.
Yours from trackside,
Sam, Pete, Gwen, Lionel, Ella, Alli, Lynn, Parliament Square, London, April 2015
Ella at Horseguards after successfully completing the London Marathon 2015