March is a great month, known in Finland as maaliskuu, the “earthy” month when the earth finally becomes visible under the snow. And it is true that March sees off the winter and ushers in the spring. Here in the Alsace, it often starts with an overcoat of snow and can finish in shorts and tee shirt. March takes the first breath of summer. It also features my annual reckoning on the 6th and our wedding anniversary on the 25th (Lady Day) which was used as the first day of the new year by Great Britain and its colonies (including America) until 1752, when they changed to the Gregorian calendar and had a 282 day year. My birthday was enlivened on the morning before by the surprise appearance of Jessie from Brighton, a family organized event hidden from me ever since Christmas. I had some imaginative and thoughtful presents, notably a retro record /CD player and a 1960s West Ham football shirt (proper cotton, heavy when wet). I was also given a framed photograph, an unnecessary book on self-improvement, the latest Decembrists album in vinyl, a DVD, a posh corkscrew (the sensitive thing has since expired from overuse) and an even posher knife grinder. The five of us also went to a good dinner locally at the Restaurant Bellevue.
Surprises such as Jessie’s sudden appearance are perfectly normal for Alli’s parents and brothers the Miles, who are always trying to surprise each other one way or another. So it was when we took a long-planned long weekend to Prague. Jessie was due to join us from England later on the day that we arrived: she marched into our hotel room in the evening accompanied by Laurie and Kay, thus surprising not only me, but crucially, their daughter Alli, for once rendered speechless. It was an unforeseen but appreciated addition to our weekend in which we ate and drank well, walked all around the city, perused the street markets, visited the uninspiring Wenceslas Square a couple of times, crossed the very inspiring Charles Bridge several times, took photos at the “John Lennon Wall”, had a boat trip on Smetana’s Die Moldau with coffee and cakes, visited the castle precincts; bought some high quality souvenirs and an unusual oil-painting of peacocks upon which Alli and I, for once, agreed as our wedding anniversary present to each other. On a negative note, a street-walking money-exchanger left Laurie with unusable Hungarian forints, and Jessie’s camera was stolen from her suitcase at Prague airport. Such events mitigate my tendency to be optimistic about one’s fellow person. But overall the visit was a great success and Prague is worth visiting, as long as you guard against rank chicanery.
The vegetable year has begun, and, after discovering from my new vegetable book that I was already two months’ overdue, I planted the first batch of seeds in trays in the greenhouse, dug over the existing vegetable beds (unearthing a dozen good fat parsnips in the process), sowed a line of salads, beans and courgettes, and began to create a new vegetable bed by the fruit trees where the moles have had many field days. Also, Alli has now located and reserved five sturdy cross-bred laying hens who will be introduced to their palace at the bottom of our garden sometime next month.
Jessie has been travelling around the United States, and has visited New York, Washington and Nashville, where she stayed with her cousin Fleur, her husband Ben and daughter Julia-Rose. She wrote long daily emails back to us about her activities, which included meeting Tony Bennett (whom I thought of as an old man even when I was a young man). She went on to Memphis, meeting her friend Bailey, whose ear-warmers I have been wearing every day whilst biking to and from work. Gwen appeared in a school musical called Grabba, in which she played a German school-student called Sandra. She didn’t look all that pleased to be waved at by her Mum from the back row, but she remembered all her lines and played a solid part in an entertaining evening. She has also been partying hard, and went to a disco at the school for her grade, generating thousands of photos for Facebook, making the disco look like something from the psychedelic 1970s. Gwen also went skiing for five days in Nendaz with her friend Charlotte and her family. Unfortunately she fainted on the third day in the ski lift and did not ski again afterwards. This was either low blood pressure (in which case I could offer her some of mine), hard partying, or the delayed dietetic effects of her vegetarianism, partly mitigated by her excellent decision a few weeks ago to start to eat fish. Ella is into the last weeks of revision before her IB exams and is therefore looking forward to the summer more than most. Me? I am eating meat again temporarily but trying to avoid carbohydrates. As referred to above, I started cycling again after the clocks changed in order to prepare my left knee, body and soul for what we all hope will be a long hot summer.
Yours from the first breath,
Lionel’s Birthday, 6 March
Jessie, Gwen & Ella at Lennon Wall, Prague
Family at Hard Rock, Prague, March 2011