In the annual French Letter Hunters’ Dinner at the beginning of the month, after a fine but predictable meal of wild boar stew, spetzli, red cabbage and Brussels sprouts, I initiated a rousing collective rendition of Do ye ken John Peel. My assumption that practically everyone knew the famous English hunting song was met with blank looks by the semi-professional English folk singers whom I had asked to help me kick it off. I could therefore have been seen and, still worse, heard on the first Friday of the month trilling an uncertain solo of the old song to the forty assembled French Letterers at the top of a windy haunted hill in the Alsatian borderland. I had taken the precaution of handing out word sheets, so I did have one or two backers after a couple of lines. By the second verse the whole place was roaring View-Halloo. I had also forgotten that it is one of the most irritatingly memorable tunes in the musical lexicon, and I had to spend the next two days trying to get it out of my head. But Christmas started in earnest with a party given by Dawn and Andy, attended also by LeAnn and Jasper. Presents were exchanged, and I am now the proud owner, inter alia, of a Dayglo shirt of canary neon banana, the same colour as Jasper’s cycling shirt which he wears to read maps in the dark. On the next day we all went to a WI bake-off in Basel, ate cake and toured a very expensive flea market. Alli and I have registered for the vote in France, in the same year as we were denied it in the UK through administrative incompetence. We can now vote in the French EU and municipal elections, which look like the only ones that matter after the recent national election results.
A musical soirée at the Hotel Euler featured a string quartet from the Basel Symphony Orchestra playing the music of Beethoven on the anniversary of his birthday. It was exciting at close quarters to hear how tempestuous and violent the music can be. Earlier, I went to the Kirche Elisabethan which offers mid-day concerts on Wednesdays (Mimiko: mittwoch mittag konzerte) and where the Ensemble Les Berger played chamber music by Boesset and Guédron. I also went with a few hundred other Baselers to see Basel’s Symphony Orchestra practising with their incoming English director Ivor Bolton for their concert Création on the morrow, and Alli and I went one Sunday evening to St Stephans-Kirche in Therwil to hear a Christmas oratorio of music by J S Bach. On business matters, I and several other freelancers and sole traders came together in Basel to have a Christmas dinner e pluribus unum. I swapped experiences with Pilates trainers, food bloggers, global supply consultants, life coaches, musicians and hypnotists.
This year’s local pantomime was Young King Arthur, written by my friend Richard Brown. After our annual dinner with the Barneses and the Jarvises at Vapiano in Basel, we walked to the theatre in time for the performance through a centre of glittering street chandeliers, silver salvers and gold dust. The show had all the elements of a proper pantomime and the sheer enthusiasm of the children in the chorus in particular was inspiring. Many, including one of Gwen’s old school-friends, were very talented performers. The next morning, Leymen village seemed to come alive like a proper village of yore as there were collections by the Proxi store for local food banks, school children on a cake stall raising money for their visit to “Londre” next year (I felt obliged to point out the spelling error), and a dégustation of Christmas delicacies, oysters and vin chaud from the welcoming Daniel Mast, the congenial proprietor of the store. I then went to drinks, prawns and goat’s cheese pizza with Martine, a local artist, to meet her friends from the Belgian Ardennes and Luxembourg.
The days tumbled over quickly towards Christmas, and our daughters started to arrive home: Gwen, Jessie, and her friend Jenny arrived on the same day. A couple of days later, Alli’s parents Laurie and Kay arrived with Ella, and Alli’s brother Anthony and his family completed the house party on Christmas Eve. With eleven of us in the house, a couple of days of notably high consumption followed, and I was emptying our bins at the local dechetterie almost daily instead of weekly. Thankfully, we did manage some moments and periods of quietude, calm and contemplation. I had been determined to make the Midnight Mass in the village and only realized that the service did not exist when I arrived at the church after a brisk midnight walk through the village in the darkness. I wandered back marvelling at the star-encrusted night sky and an enormous moon. But we got to the Adventhaus church in Basel on Christmas morning, and over the holiday took several invigorating walks to fill our lungs with cold clean air around Leymen, in Oberwil or on the Bruderholz. I took every opportunity I could for reading – currently the extraordinary Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. Our meals were copious and almost incessant; with many cooks, helpmates and washers up, including all our daughters. Our neighbours Geoff, Ginelle and Linden joined us all for Boxing Day lunch. We spent some quality time on board and parlour games, which this year included Augustus, Cotan, Pieface, Mr & Mrs, Drawing Charades, Pointless, and Life. The gifts were as generous as ever, and even more so from the children, whose gifts were creative and carefully chosen. This is the first year that all three are full-fledged, now returning to the home and hearth from their lives elsewhere.
Miles and Stanbrook Christmas Lunch, December 2015
Being either English, Welsh or Danish, we complained about the weather, which was so mild that we could easily have had Christmas lunch al fresco. The morning mists fought a losing battle with a persistent, low autumn sun in a broad blue sky, giving us long photogenic shadows to hurl across the fields. After Ella returned to London, we went to a very sociable party at the Anthonys of Therwil, but we had a quiet New Year’s Eve, especially as Gwen was out with friends watching the fireworks at the Rhein in Basel. The day had started unexpectedly for me when I woke with a free flowing nosebleed, but I recovered to go shopping and start to make preparations for dinner, for once as the cook and maitre d’. And 2016 will be different to 2015, not least because I have professional and personal resolutions that I must fulfil. To wit, I will not allow half-formed thoughts to pass; I will wear my trousers rolled; I will become sustaining and sustainable; and I will write about a prisoner in a castle.
A very poetic and politic New Year to all,