I miss not having a proper bonfire night, and regret that Halloween spreads itself fatly around and about the Samhain. Of course, All Hallows Eve is a traditional and ancient British celebration. But its comparatively recent shoehorning into the orange plastic mould of Hollywood Americana (Halloween – Halloweed – Hollyweed – Hollywood) takes it far away from its origins in pagan Britain. Now about pumpkins rather than turnips, and featuring cheap horror rather than the defiance of darkness, Halloween seems to have won the sealflap of globalproval and is starting to encroach upon nearby celebrations all over the world. Maybe Remembrance Sunday will be Freddy’s next victim. The poppy is a curiosity in Switzerland and I am every year asked what it is for, often by the same people. As a commemoration of the war dead, the poppy may even bring us back to the original idea of the Hallows Eve, when the dead were honored and remembered with respect.
I spent some time on a course in Freiburg at a hotel with a panorama view of this tidy and interesting German city at the foot of the Schwarzwald. Part of the course involved telling the rest of the attendees about something unusual in which I had a significant interest. I chose my extinguished hobby of hunting for ley lines, and earnestly informed my colleagues about standing stones, black dogs and grey ladies. I am sure that they did not believe that I was even a work colleague of theirs; others had chosen sensible subjects such as entomology, FC Basel, repairing bikes, skiing and architecture. Talking of skiing, the snow has fallen early and often this year, and the month is ending mostly in deep crushed white, arctic temperatures and beautiful morning landscapes around the Baselbiet.
I went to England to go to the funeral of Debbie’s and Fiona’s mother, Doreen. The venue was St Mary’s in Battersea, a beautiful church set quietly and restfully by the Thames as it glides peacefully through London. It was a part of London with which I have never been familiar, and the development of the Chelsea and Battersea Thames reaches had completely passed me by. More familiar was the reminder that no-one on the street seems to know where local churches are any more, not even taxi drivers (I suppose it’s unusual to take a taxi to church) but the Battersea locals’ ignorance of this fine church was a little disappointing. Two residents even spontaneously offered atheism as their reason for not knowing where the church was. I was outraged: I hadn’t even asked for a haircut. The next morning with difficulty I got back to Gatwick, beating some sort of failure on the Brighton line, and arrived without any browsing time to spare. The two jars of Robertson’s mincemeat that I had brought from Tesco were rejected at the border control because they were terrorist paste. So why didn’t I realize?, tutted the kindly manuform. I am hiding my killer urges so much better these days.
Gwen has had three successful sporting excursions. First, she went to Geneva on a school tennis outing. While the school did not win the tournament they did win the prize for the most sportsmanlike team in the competition. (Obviously no-one called the umpire the pits). She also went with the school swimming team to a gala in Gstaad and the team came back victorious. She has also started playing basketball at the school, enjoys it, and has already shown some talent. Last weekend she again did the Basel Stadtlauf, running a few kilometers through the city in freezing temperatures and whilst the snow fell. Alli and I welcomed her at the finish line and we all went for dinner at Tibits afterwards with her friend Charlotte and family. Jessie seems surprised by the sheer amount of reading that she has to do for her law degree. She has, however, found her perfect sport in Extreme for which she practices for several hours a week. The game looks exhausting, and is a cross between handball and hurling, with a team, a sense of humor and a Frisbee. Ella continues to prepare for her exams next year with diligence and determination. Now she is in the final lap, her teachers are starting to mark her up, which helps her chances of a good university offer. Aiming to study politics and international relations, she is now choosing her university – her current preferences are the LSE, Bath, Warwick, Sheffield and Loughborough. Although she has played less sport this year, she was delighted to be chosen as the Vice Captain of the school basketball team.
We had a dinner party for our neighbors in which much of the conversation was conducted in French. This is never easy for me as I am when sober unable to think in any other language but English. Despite my leaden repartee I do find this easier when there are significant numbers of other English speakers around who are only as good as or worse than me. We spent an excellent day with the Kellys, believing that we were celebrating Neil’s birthday one day late before being apprised by chance that it was Susan’s birthday that same day. We also went to evening drinks with our neighbor Nicole and further afield with our friends Jasper and LeeAnn to a wine tasting evening in Hesingue where we met several other friends, bought and quaffed much wine. I find wine tasting evenings very strange, as they take place in conditions identical to having a drink with friends, with the significant difference that your glass is never filled by more than a couple of finger widths. And the bar staff are very slow to refill and keep asking you what the wine is like. Soon, the desire just to chug a proper glass of wine overtakes that of primly tasting and savoring it. At this point a free evening becomes suddenly expensive as the orders proliferate for the purchase of numerous bottles to be delivered later as an urgent inducement to get the damned glass filled properly now.
Notwithstanding these minor seasonal preoccupations, and from a temperature of minus -10C, the whole Stanbrook family wishes you a very happy and healthy Christmas
Charlotte (left) and Gwen (right) at the start of the Basel Stadtlauf, November 2010