Residents of the Appenzell Innerrboden canton of Switzerland voted overwhelmingly in their last open-air annual assembly to ban nude hiking. Naked hikers have become a feature of the region since the practice was naughtily publicised by German web sites. But such hikers will from now on be fined 200 Swiss francs if caught with their pants down and their shirts up while trudging up or down the mountains within the canton. This was very much on my mind as I joined seven other men for a weekend’s hiking – not in Appenzell but much further East in Engadin, a region next to the Italian and Austrian borders in the Alps. I am, technically, an interloper among them, as the men are all “hausmen”, the male version of housewives. They are a hardy and virile lot and I found it hard to keep up with the blistering pace that they set. And that was just the drinking. We set out from Scuol and walked over the surrounding snow-topped sunny mountains for the best part of two days, visiting the Romantsch villages with those unusual names: Sent, Vna, Ftan, Ardez and Ramosch, taking occasional meager refreshment from one or other of the three-star restaurants that dot the lonely hiking trails, and resting our weary bones at the swimming spa complete with solarium, massage and sauna that we found quite by chance close to our mean and Spartan hostel. While all this clothed hiking was going on, Alli and Gwen were being feted in Luxembourg by the Miles, where they received brilliant hospitality and welcome. Jessie and Ella were studying conscientiously at home, one assumes.
Jessie celebrated her 18th birthday on the 9th May. Eighteen years! I am speechless with paternal pride. Our celebrations were a little subdued – she has spent much of this month taking the all-important International Baccalaureate (IB) exams which have restrained the celebrations for such a significant milestone. She received some generous presents, especially from uncles, aunts and grandparents. Her main birthday party is in June, just a couple of days after her graduation on the 5th. Nevertheless most of her best friends, also doing their IB exams, came round for dinner and a chinwag. For the first time, it rained on Jessie’s birthday. The weather during the month has wavered in super-tropical turvy fashion between cold winds, heavy spaddering rain and bouncing hailstones to white heat white light at 34 degrees. But by the Ascension holiday the exams were all over and for Jessie school was out. She is now in Alicante, a well-earned R&R in the sun along with many of the rest of her grade.
By the sound of it, the throated frogs have now arrived and we eagerly await their migration and settlement in our pond. This time of year always reminds me of Aristophanes’ bizarre play The Frogs, in which the following exchange has somehow over the years stuck in my memory; XANTHIAS: ”O holy noble daughter of Demeter, I just smelt roast pork—how sweet a smell that is”. DIONYSUS: “If you keep quiet, you just might get a slice”. (this seems to lose something in translation). Two red squirrels now reside in our pine tree and can be seen and heard chattering on the oft-cut grass. There has been a plethora of sparrows flying around the garden, frenzied in their mating, nesting and feeding. A madly speeded up version of our own lives, I suspect. There are also many more crows than usual, stalking around looking cross, askance, angular and displaced. It reminded me of Ted Hughes’s observation: “Whatever the colour of Englishman you scratch, you always come to some sort of crow.”
Speaking of which, I went to England and got forcibly booked into my second least favorite hotel on the planet, the absurd and posturing The Coppid Beech, whose name conjures visions of a half timbered straw-scattered old barn staffed by yeomen and yeowomen with a kindly, warm wrinkle-cheek welcome but which in fact is an ugly 60s concrete block staffed by traffic wardens, plonked on a traffic-strewn roundabout between Bracknell and Wokingham. The next day, I was in London’s oldest pub, the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, a suitable antidote. It used to be known as the Bucket of Blood because of the bare-fist fights that happened there. John Dryden was attacked by thugs in the alleyway by the side of the pub and nearly died. And all he ever said was “At whom are you looking?”
Gwen was in the Grade 4 concert at the school about the history of music, playing a dancer, a lawyer and holding up a poster for the Beatles. She has also been making regular visits to the swimming pool and swam for the school in a Zurich schools swimming competition. She also completed a sponsored swim at the Roche pool in Basel, doing a champion 50 lengths. 50 lengths? I doubt if I could manage ten without putting me plates down. It also cost me dear as in a fit of affectionate generosity I signed up to be parted from a small fortune in the act of it. We had a dinner party to thank our neighbors for helping me to take and transfer furniture down to La Hune last month and we also went to some friends for a barbecue in the next village, where we were, uncharacteristically, the last to leave.
Is that the time?
Lawrence O’Doherty and Jessie on her birthday, 2009