As yet another year shoots across the failing sky at Samhain without so much as a holding of your horses or a by-your-leave or even an er-just-a-minute, it strikes me as unjust that growing older involves the relentless accumulation of grim supporting evidence of this fact, although I do not feel as if I am aging at all, and there is definitely no motive to do so. Certainly not when I keep seeing friends from the past who appear not to have changed in the slightest. Calmly I am trying to ignore the onrush of elder age, if only to prepare properly for total denial as I climb ever higher on the ladder to the stars, but the revelation that my left hip is thinking of turning arthritic was thought-provoking. I’ve only just stopped jogging to the bathroom, for goodness’ sake.
Alli and I spent a special few days in London, attending the wedding of my friend Adam and his partner Angela, although the visit was marked also by sadness: our travel plans were changed suddenly so that Alli could stay in England afterwards to attend the funeral in Sussex of our friend Richard. A companion since childhood of my father-in-law, Richard died on the day that we flew to London. He and his wife Linda have been generous friends to the Miles family for more than a generation, and their children and grandchildren continue to be close friends of ours and still are now.
Adam, a young 53, had asked me to be one of his two Best Men (the one who makes the speech) and so, needing to stay in central London, Alli and I booked into a budget hotel off the Charing Cross Road. We spent Sunday afternoon shopping in Oxford Street with Jessie, who had come up from Brighton to meet us, and had an excellent Indian meal at the Malabar Junction in Great Russell Street. On the next day, which was bright and sunny, showing off London at its autumnal best, the wedding was formally sealed at the Marylebone Registry Office and celebrated in the Seven Dials Club, in the beating heart of the West End. It was great to see Stephen there, another friend to whom I had been close a generation ago. We had gone on holiday together in 1974 on rookie Inter-Rail cards, backpacking around southern Europe and visiting female acquaintances in Spain. Now an even younger-looking 53, he has a brilliant career as a television producer. Later, in the relaxed conversation-strewn afternoon I made my speech, loosely cast around the great London poem of T.S.Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which seemed appropriate for such a proper London event.
Back in Basel, Alli and I also went to a young friend’s 50th birthday party in Riehen, at a house on the top of a Schwarzwald foothill overlooking the city as well as the German border. Juan’s family, scorning the relentless rain, had arranged in the garden an impressive fireworks extravaganza depicting his first name and his latest age. And on one evening amidst the falling leaves of Dornach, we went to see the entertaining and sharply written Autumn play of the local English-language Semi-Circle drama group, Unoriginal Sin, by the British playwright David Tristram. Our fantail of Basel High Society was completed by Paul and Elise’s fancy dress Halloween Party, offering another spectacular view of Basel from a prominent hill in the Bruderholz. The party featured some entertaining table-turning which was severely compromised by the raucous heckling of the host, and some macabre story-telling from Martin, who had what he claimed was the infamous brown box of Chief Inspector Abberline, the detective in the Jack the Ripper case. Alli turned out to be in copious touch with the spirit world and psychic to boot. I always had a funny feeling that she was.
Ella has been very active as her final school year gets under way. After earlier spending four days in a bunker in downtown Basel while attending and participating in a special session of the European Youth Parliament with several of her friends, she later went with a big school party for two weeks to South Africa, where she took part in a full roster of activities that included visiting the Pilanesberg National Park, Lesedi, Sun City, Soweto, then the Cape Town area, including hiking around the Table Mountain, visiting Robben Island and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. She did some chores in an orphanage and took full part in a Habitat for Humanity Day, helping to paint a couple of houses in Mfuleni, a local township. She came back with over 1200 photographs, which she effortlessly presented one evening for family viewing. Jessie is settled, if that is the right word for a multifarious sequence of bizarre social events, in the Falmer campus of Sussex University in Brighton. I can believe that she might be having difficulty fitting academic work into all the other crucial social, political, musical, thespian, physical exercise, leisure and other key aspects of her composite daily routine. Gwen has been to several parties with friends, and most recently to a Halloween disco at school and a trick-or-treating session around our old neighborhood of Oberwil.
After eleven months and eight days of residence in our dream house here on the French-Swiss border, I can now advise that our garage has finally and totally been cleared of the previous owner’s possessions. Just as Jack Frost called, we actually swoosh-drove our car into our garage with the help of a remotely controlled door-opener. This is a stupendous event, for we have never actually used any garage that we have ever owned for the purpose of storing a car. It will take me a long time to get used to it. For example, at 6.30am the morning after this historic event I looked out of the window and concluded from the sight of the driveway that the car had been stolen, so I tiptoed back into the bedroom with a rising sense of panic and woke Alli up to gravely inform her of the fact. “We drove it into the garage last night” was her comatose but rapid and curt reply before turning over. After a few seconds during which I assimilated this information, I turned respectfully and tiptoed out again. This suggests that Alli is more on the ball asleep than I am awake. My bike trips to and from work have recently been taking place in the sparkling dark before dawn and after dusk. And I will be following a diet for the next few weeks. That should take some pressure off the joints but also, to be frank with you, help me build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung.
And may we all stay forever young,
Ella in South Africa, 2010
Adam and Angela Kinn’s wedding, London, October 2010