The great year-long French house purchase saga has been successfully concluded. We have taken nine tenths of the law of 13 Rue de la Scierie, 68220 Leymen, France. For over a week we have now been waking there every morning having gone to bed there every night. It is true that the final act of sale has not yet been signed, but surely sureté will come. I am nearly positive of this. Alli had continued tirelessly to show prospective tenants around our Oberwil house but unfortunately we had to move stock and barrel leaving the rented house still rented (to us), although the landlord did relieve us of one month of the excess charge. For at least three weeks beforehand, Alli had packed all our belongings determinedly into boxes and taped them down definitively as evidence of intent. The worrying hiatus on which note I finished last month’s Ahem was resolved when it transpired that the owner had been in hospital for a week with his foot, as the English would say. But this was mere bathos compared to the Boschian horrors that were to await us in the febrile dénouement of the affair. One of the tatterdemalion array of characters who owned random bits of our prospective house went bonkers just after agreeing to remove his objection to the sale but just before signing this agreement into notarized fact. The notaire and the seller went off to extract his signature from his hospital bed, where he was recovering after crashing his car. This was because he had lost all his money gambling in Strasbourg, and had driven down the wrong side of the motorway in search of a cash machine after having left and forgotten his wife at a petrol station. Then the crucial meeting at the notaire’s office nearly collapsed from the start when the estate agent who did not show us around the house two years ago turned up to claim her disputed and not inconsiderable cut, much to the seller’s discomfiture; and to mine, after the seller asked me rhetorically if I might care to pay it. I, who had 12 hours earlier been retching on a pavement in Mumbai, demurred. The meeting stumbled on with the seller threatening the estate agent with a whispering campaign to besmirch her local reputation. It then transpired that the notaire had not sent the crucial document previously to the seller for review and that the seller could not confirm the sale until he had satisfied the French authorities that he had not profited from the sale, which on all counts he had not done. If a purple warthog had then entered the room on its hind legs and solemnly introduced itself to all of us in fluent Tagalog I would not have found the meeting any more odd than I did at that moment.
The move the following Monday was a 15-hour marathon starting at 7am. Later in the morning, when the house was supposed to be empty, we arrived there to find the seller and his wife still mopping down the floors, their possessions still in every room, their food in the fridge and their clothes rattling in the washing machine. Later, after an entertaining two hour wait at the French border to fill in dozens of quadruplicate forms for customs officials who had never known the urgent thrill of humor, I ceremoniously led a crazy convoy of five removal vans around Mulhouse airport slip roads and roundabouts (that did not exist on the tom-tom), then on a highly circuitous route towards Leymen, and finally on a major local detour on rutted muddy country lanes across ploughed fields in the medium drizzle in order to get in front of the house itself, since Rue de la Scierie was all up with severe road works, and literally nothing – lorry, van, car, bike, pedestrian or even dog – could physically get into the road, a cul-de-sac, from the village. Since moving in, the ultra-modern fridge, cooker, hob, outside lights, electrical circuits generally and gas supply have all gone on the blink, one way or another. We have neither telephone, TV nor internet despite having ordered it from that happy people company France Telecom several days ago. In addition, the seller’s detritus of job-lots of machine tools, IT equipment and DIY materials, most still in their original packing, have not yet been removed from the two large double garages; the swimming pool is green and uncovered and the pool house restoration is undone; but in truth we can shrug off these local difficulties for the greater good. We are enormously relieved to be where we are, and not a little proud that between us all we have managed to stay determinedly on course to own the house of Alli’s dreams and my delusions. Leymen is a place of rolling hills, forest walks, majestic dawns and peaceful sunsets, with three good restaurants, a bar-tabac, a boucherie, a boulanger, and direct tram access to central Basel. We are staying. Come what may. And judging by the events of the last twelve months, it probably will.
Jessie has been enjoying herself more and more in the Caribbean but we can feel her frustration at not having witnessed some of the extraordinary developments as sketched above. We look forward hugely to seeing her on the 13th December, back with us for Christmas before she goes on to New Zealand in the New Year. The long-awaited Jonas Brothers concert in Zurich, an early Christmas present for Gwen, was cancelled at almost the last minute due to one of the brothers’ throat infection. We saw the news just before I was to take Gwen and her friend to Zurich by train for the concert. Gwen, who had excitedly prepared for the concert by making a T shirt and a poster, was briefly disconsolate but cheered up after neighbors took her to the Michael Jackson film in town. She has also swum successfully for the school team, helping them to a famous win in a schools swimming gala in Gstaad. Ella has been taking the events calmly and in her stride, and has been scoring well in her higher level subjects at school. We attended a meeting there to help her choose her special subject essay to be written over the course of the next year. She will probably be choosing a subject from early twentieth century history.
I spent Halloween in Canada after attending a conference in Washington DC. It was great to see my second cousin once removed Kate Moss, with her boyfriend Tom (now fiancé) and her father. She and Tom will be getting married in England in March next year. I stayed with her family in Toronto no less than 36 years ago on a half term visit from Milton Academy in Boston, where I was studying as an exchange student from Westminster School. We talked about our shared family on my mother’s side (she knew far more than I did), and it was surprising to see that in the past few generations our antecedents comprised not only Jessies, but also Ellas and even Gwens. And Alli and I thought the names we gave our children were different. It just shows, as my mother would often mysteriously observe. Kate, Tom and I had drinks at Kate’s flat with her Dad, then we ate and talked in a small French bistro, sampled malt whiskies at a couple of midtown bars then participated in a pub quiz amidst the hooting Halloweeners of Toronto. The following day I flew to a wind-swept Saskatoon in Saskatchewan in the Canadian savanna prairies to meet local farmers. Jet lag pursued me relentlessly through the entire visit, and I was uncontrollably sleepy during the visit as well as for several days after it ended. In Washington I had even fallen asleep while trying to watch Jonson’s The Alchemist at the Shakespeare Theatre. The following week, while Alli was filling and preparing hundreds of packing cases, I flew to the Philippines and then to India to visit various company sites and projects. In Goa I had the best vegetarian Thali I have ever eaten. I came back from India groggy and delicate of stomach straight into the yawling theatre of the absurd that I have described above.
So, celebrate with us in this festive season of good will, raise your glasses, and declaim, altogether….
Santé ! Joyeux Nöel ! Nous sommes toujours debout !
Kate and Tom engaged in Toronto, 2009