December started while I was on a business visit to America, and I had a half day before my meetings began so I went to see the monuments on the Mall in Washington DC. First was the Washington monument, a tall and rather uninspired spike in which the only interest consisted of going inside and climbing the internal staircase to look out at the rest of the city. But this was difficult as, in a fairly typical American scenario, tickets for entry could only be bought about half a mile away in the ticket office where it was expected that people should naturally go if they wanted to visit the Monument. I turned down the chance to retrace my steps in this way and went on towards the Vietnam Veterans memorial. This is an inspired piece of architecture, a long black mirrored gravestone with the names of all those who died and had gone missing (some 80,000) in the Vietnam War between 1959 and 1975, etched on the black stone in small elegant capitals. The numbers made me feel small. If I had been American I think I might also have felt a degree of irritation about successive recent administrations that pursued policies that made ordinary Americans keep on dying unnecessarily in foreign fields. I went on to the massive Lincoln Memorial and gazed at the very imposing statue, with its unforgettable face and head and posture of an arch and angular schoolmaster. Unfortunately it was under scaffolding and it was not easy to get a proper view. The same was true of the Gettysburg Address carved into marble on the left of the statue. It too was being steam cleaned. I came back down the steps, conscious of the view across the water that reflected the Washington monument perfectly. It was also the spot where Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech. I came back on the other side of the Mall via the Korean War Veterans memorial, a ghostly and compelling sculpture of nineteen soldiers struggling through a forest loaded down with kit and heavy coats and with trouble, worry and fear etched in their faces. There is an inscription there noting that the sculpture honours American soldiers who died in a foreign field amongst people that they did not meet. The figures of the soldiers were being viewed contemplatively by other ghostly faces etched into black marble that bordered the main sculpture area. It was a most eerie and unsettling experience. It’s really an anti-war memorial. By contrast the memorial to the Second World War is grandiloquent, derivative and uninspiring. It was strange to see such completely different architectural styles on view, and completed within only a few years of each other. It would certainly seem that the Mall in Washington is turning into a kind of War Memorial Alley of clashing architectures.
Gwen has appeared in a Christmas play at our church, playing Rachel, apparently the daughter of the poor innkeepers who offered Mary and Joseph the stable where Jesus was born. She was very excited about it and we all saw her in action with several other children playing different parts in a makeshift story “The Miracle Zone” narrated by Tim, our neighbour. There were some moments of good and even sharp humour, for example when one of the child characters referred to our narrating neighbour as “the weird guy with the suit”. The play took place on the morning of Gwen’s birthday party. Her actual birthday the next day was well celebrated. She opened some of her presents and most of the cards in the morning but in a decision of almost heroic stoicism for a 7 year old decided to leave the rest for the evening as she had to go to school and I had to go to work. Gwen was particularly pleased with a red cushion that Alli had bought her and with a big talking doll from Uncle Clive and Auntie Julia. The same evening I proudly went to a concert at the school in which Jessie was performing as part of the school orchestra. The school has recruited recently an excellent new music teacher, who was very clearly providing great inspiration to the children. The choir in particular sang beautifully some new and challenging arrangements of well known songs and carols.
A couple of days later, with the newly freezing weather conditions and while struggling with the ski gloves that I had started to wear, just as I got to the main entrance of the Syngenta site I had a small and rather comic fall just in front of the main gates as I gripped the left hand brake just a little too hard while using my right hand to take my entry badge from my pocket. I flipped delicately in slow motion, and toppled quietly over the handlebars. No harm done but another uncomfortable reminder that bikes are not stable things and just a small overcompensation results invariably in an undignified unseating.
We have all been ill in droves since we came back from England earlier in the month. Alli and I have both had serial colds, flu-type symptoms and rasping coughs. Jessie has been particularly badly affected and has suffered for weeks while I have even spent a few days going into work by tram instead of bicycle because of a sore throat and a general hoarse feeling of unwellness. We have just come back from spending Christmas in Luxembourg at the home of Anthony and Susanne, my brother-in-law and his wife. We were treated royally and liberally to a feast of food, frolics and hospitality. Notwithstanding our coughs and colds, we hope you have had a wonderful Christmas as we have and we wish you a very Happy and Peaceful New Year.
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