“There are more greenhouse gas emissions from cheeseburgers than from all the SUVs in the USA.” So starts Gwen’s self-produced leaflet “Go Veggie!”, a major part of her 5th grade presentation at the International School. Each child in the grade had chosen a subject about which they felt strongly, and each had developed a spoken presentation. This initiative invited parents to attend and listen to the presentations. I spent two hours being told by knowledgeable 11 year olds about climate change, smoking, media distortion, South Africa, safe biking (I listened carefully to this one), healthy living (and this), depression (and this), and many other fascinating and relevant issues seen by junior eyes. Gwen’s case for vegetarianism was made confidently and fluently. She made her well-rehearsed pitch to assorted parents over twenty times during the evening. She was exhausted afterwards but she had most certainly spread the word, and I was as proud as a preening parrot. Gwen also had a great school report for her final Junior School year but was upset at the prospect of losing so many of her friends in the annual churn of families from Basel, which was particularly severe this year. She also went to Salzburg on a short trip with the school and had a great time touring the city and learning a little more about Mozart and other famous city scions.
Ella finished her term exams with relief, and promptly took to her bed with a temperature, although she still had to attend school to make an important presentation, choosing the subject of the burqa in society. She recovered well, received excellent grades and exam results, and acquired again the coveted “Honour Roll” for the year, obtaining a score of 6 out of 7. She celebrated by going to the South Side rock festival in Germany with friends, although it rained all the time and became a Glasto-style mud bath. She came back a day early: cold, soaking and muddy. But she also recovered from this to attend a party or three in Basel and is now on a well deserved holiday in England with her grand-parents. This started with us, as I drove with Jessie to England with some larger items that she will need for university and to join the family at the Burgess Hill Miles for the weekend, although Alli, Ella and Gwen were delayed for 24 hours by the French transport strike. On the Saturday morning we all drove to Alli’s cousins Sue and Paul Dampier, to help celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary together with a small contingent of a hundred and thirty friends and family in their beautiful house in Suffolk. We spent the night in the extraordinary house and gardens near Norwich of Vincent and Hilary, also from the extended Miles family, where we dined in style and were the beneficiaries of perfect hospitality. The following morning was memorable for a boat trip taken on the River Yare from the garden mooring, for a very convivial lunch and for a relaxing swim. We then spent a couple of days with our favorite grandparents in Burgess Hill. Earlier in the month, Alli and I spent an evening in the company of the Ferrette Morris Men, who were sharing the bill with the slightly better known England-based Morris dancing teams, respectively, from Kennet and Wantage. (They’ve appeared on Bergerac, you know).
Jessie arrived back home from New Zealand via Singapore on the 14th June with huge and tall stories to tell of her adventures. She got into the swing straight away – almost immediately on her arrival the house was filled with other people, attracted like moths to a flame, and assorted teenagers suddenly appeared from nowhere, sleeping on floors and turning up unexpectedly to meals. It was like some kind of new game based on SIM City, in which when your daughter prodigally comes home from a gap year, comatose teenagers start groaning gently in spare bedrooms, cans of beer and plates of food disappear from the fridge and the dirty laundry multiplies silently, stealthily, unaccountably. Jessie has already organized two parties for July and condemned our house interior as “too white” so now we have a Gustave Klimt print of a colorful and seductive naked lady wreathed in flowers and stretched languorously across our kitchen table. Our Kiwi artist friend Talulah’s vibrant expressionist paintings have also proliferated on the walls like the tendrils of Virginia creeper on G-plan.
Our swimming pool has been fixed at last and we have had new external blinds installed at the back of the house. We attended a couple of parties and had a very enjoyable Brazilian lunch at our neighbors. I have also been building the cage for the chicken run at the end of the garden with a very decisive degree of direction from my friend Adrian, who was also responsible for a similar role in the creation of the coop. First we dug a half-meter deep trench around the intended area of the runs (ten square meters), then for the cage, we cut and measured lengths from 75 meters of larch. The structure is now up (after nearly three weekends of work), but I have not yet attached the chicken wire or finished the moving, swinging or sliding parts (I am waiting for Adrian to tell me how).
After the initial shock to the system caused by the harder and longer journey from Leymen in France, cycling the 16 kilometers to work has passé from pain to pleasure, and to which I now look forward every day as summertime provides its daybright dawns and longshadow evenings. Mentally, I divide the journey into three parts: rural & farming; backstreets & suburban; city & traffic. Each of these presents a lurid sequence of foreground images whose precise details change subtly each day. There are fascinating differences in the proportion of noteworthy dogs, horses, storks, crows, pigs, cows and other animals, and of human varieties: dog-walkers, road repair artists, bright schoolgirls and thick-set matrons, florid van-drivers, joggers dumpy and lithe. On my daily journey to and fro I cross a national border post, pass through four farmyards, cycle by the trackless side-lengths of two fields, shortcut through two petrol station forecourts, ghost in behind the back-delivery rear-ends of two shopping malls, stalk the swoosh-rumble tramline, follow the lines of tow-paths beside the tumbling streams of the Birsig, pass by several tidy Swiss-flagged garden allotments, a lido and two tennis clubs, before joining the sweaty suburban cycle lane in the commuter traffic for Basel near the zoo, (where I often glimpse and sniff the inmates). Yes, there is a shower at work.
Where’s the soap?
Laurie, Kay, Gwen, Jessie, Alli, Ella and Lionel, Broad Oaks, UK, Summer 2010