We (Jessie, Ella, their friends and I) have been to see the Magic Numbers in Zurich, at the very venue where we failed to see the Killers last year, and where I promised I would never again go in mid week to a rock concert. The Abart Music Club is a very small venue with a bar area and a few places around the edges for seats. The concert was enjoyable and very loud. It lasted much longer than I thought as there were no less than three support acts. Afterwards I should have kept a better eye on the time and especially on the time of the last train back to Basel, because the former overtook the latter and we arrived at the station just a couple of minutes after the departure of the last train to Basel. We had no other option but to take a taxi for what was an hour and a half’s drive. We all climbed into one and, despite the enormous price, I was utterly resigned to it and soon was relaxed and dozing contentedly in the warm car on the way to our very doorstep in Basel with the children all asleep and safe in the back – testament to the great and enduring combination of luxury and occasional necessity that is the taxi everywhere.
We have spent some Ides in England. Alli and the children are starting to re-model the bi-annual visit to England as a massive shopping trip, while I try to stay away from retail therapy, as it really does nothing for me. I arrived separately from the family and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington where I thought about the grandfather I had never known working somewhere near the big clock on Platform One helping to do the accounts for God’s Wonderful Railway. But I had later and more tangible memories to settle, and took a couple of hours out with a taxi going up the Harrow Road to the Kensal Rise Cemetery to visit the grave where my parents now rest. On the next day I also fulfilled a long held promise to visit friends John and Jan, Nat and Cato in East London. They live in a stylish box-fronted space in Forest Gate facing the Wanstead Flats. The prefabricated house had been transported down the motorway from the north a year or so ago by an enterprising builder, and placed on a mostly Victorian terrace. Inside it was comfortable, roomy and well designed, reminding me of a Swiss house, with its squareness, good design and excellent use of space.
This is a month full of celebrations, anniversaries and birthdays. In England I celebrated my 49th of the latter, and Alli and I were wined and dined with alacrity by the Stewards of Haywards Heath who also gave me a birthday present of Neil Diamond’s latest album and a signed copy of an album by Thea Gilmore on which was scrawled “Happy Birthday Big Boy, Thea Gilmore”. How good does it get? I interrupted our UK week with a day back in Basel where suddenly there were huge walls of snow everywhere after a big fall in the previous two days. Even Basel had been immobilised by the snow (for a couple of hours). From the railway station I got a taxi driven by a French-speaking Malian who spent the journey telling me that the Europeans ought to get back into Africa and save it from itself. When I arrived at the house there was over a metre of snow on the stone stairs outside and around the car and no clue as to where the stairs actually were. It was not easy to get up to the front door with all my bags, but I must have been an interesting sight (at midnight and on the last day of Fastnacht), as I, encumbered by heavy bags, sank deep into the snow at each weighty step through a mini-avalanche up the steps.
I have spent a few days at a conference on the Dutch coast, at Nordwijk, where on the morning of my presentation I woke very late and had to get up and about very quickly. While doing so, knocking over tooth brush holders and getting mixed up in wet towels, I managed to nick myself quite badly as I shaved in a mounting panic about the time. I don’t know what the law is called that says that on the days that I cut myself shaving I will also be about to stand in front of hundreds of people who are looking at my face intently. I came flying downstairs – no time for breakfast obviously – and rushed into the meeting room ready to give my presentation from the lap top. Luckily the meeting as such had not started but on the other hand the bleeding hadn’t stopped either. I must have looked quite manic that morning as I pressed bloody bits of paper serviettes to the side of my chin which reddened and dripped blood copiously almost as soon as I took the paper away. And yes, I do carry in my washing bag the stick thing that staunches blood on such occasions. But it hadn’t worked. Somehow, by the grace of God or whoever it was looking down at me that day (and no doubt highly amused by the whole performance) the bleeding stopped shortly before my turn to present and facilitate the session.