Wobbly Sunflowers Gladioli: August 2004
We are only now coming to the end of the drawn-out hassle of moving in. It is a slow but occasionally satisfying process of stops and starts, twists and turns, square pegs and round holes. When we got back after a nightmare 12-hour journey to Basel from our house in France in early August everything was of course in a total mess after the so-called removal – we did not have lights in most of the rooms, and I had to go into work the next day after turning in past 2am. As it turned out I did not. I got dressed that morning with a raging headache, unusually not caused by alcohol but, I suspect, by the effects of prolonged distance driving through 5 solid hours of torrential rain on the motorway between Lyon and Basel the night before. Probably the most difficult driving assignment I have ever had since I took a 60 tonner carrying rare plant specimens from Albuquerque to Milwaukee in a freak hailstorm. With vampire bats. I knew that Basil our dog was arriving at the airport in a crate from Heathrow at 2pm and that I would have to come back home to pick up the car to get him anyway, and so I got half way down the hill at 10am, realised that I had forgotten my work access badge, and just gave up, came back up the hill, sweating profusely in an early morning heat, changed back into a t shirt and carried on with the humping (of the unpacking type). Later I found that no-one at work expected me to be there anyway and that we get a day off for removals. Ten days or maybe a month would be more to the point. “Think I’ll pack it in and buy a pick-up, take me down to LA“.
I took Gwen to pick up Basil from Basel airport in the afternoon and got my first dose of Swiss bureaucracy. Quite a mild one, really. Perfectly pleasant people and often very informal but signatures must appear on the dotted lines. They use informality more often as a way to explain more effectively why the rules need to be followed. You can’t actually argue against any of it as it all makes good sense. However, I can see that I shall have to work to hang on to that curious English virtue of a misguided sense of stubborn independence. Basil was frightened but alive, which was a relief, and through his memory loss might now have forgotten all about the harrowing plane ride. He was fine if extremely wobbly within hours. “used to jump off the back of my truck“. Jasper didn’t make it – he died in late July.
Things are going well here. Every day, something else suddenly fits into place after looking misfit. We got the TV working and promptly signed up for British Sky, which gives us the Simpsons, Friends, and Will & Grace more or less on tap, so the kids are even happier. I’m just happy to be reconnected with British TV News and the occasional b/w film or footie, or a documentary about something I don’t know anything about. After Basil knocked a glass of wine all over my lap-top computer while it was on, thus destroying it, I am still wondering whether I might still be able to save three years of data (including diary, music and photos) from the hard disk. It looks like I will but the hardware is destroyed completely. On the other hand, I also just got the internet going on the home computer so Jessie is content to be back on MSN.
It looks like it all might become a good life. I am now cycling (huffing and puffing would be more accurate) half an hour to work (although 45 minutes back, as it’s uphill) and I go past great scenery: fields of storks, sunflowers and gladioli, cows with cowbells, millions of schoolgirls cycling innocently to school, Basel zoo where I normally glimpse the giraffes, and across the wide Rhein on the Mittelbrucke in the centre of Basel, affording a fine view of the city which must be more or less unchanged for over three centuries. The kids take a tram to school (on their own) and are settling in well, albeit starting to sound a trifle American (of the sitcom variety) as they are going to the international school. Yes, it’s provincial (but no more so than Hassocks), but I guess I’m ready for it now. Now my girls go to parties and I sit up and wait for them to come home.
My German isn’t doing very well though. I guess I’ll have to rely on osmosis. Usefully, the Swiss do speak slowly. Unfortunately they do not speak ‘High’ German as such, so either French or English gets me through most situations so far.
We have nearly unpacked all the removals cases and consigned all music in the three forms in which it works, temporarily, to the air raid shelter, required by Swiss law to be in every house in Switzerland, and where it might languish for years, for all I know. There’s not a lot of room anywhere else. I left the hifi in France so I am in the market for a new music system. I have a huge and stupid number of periodicals and bits of half-useful paper, and I have realised what a terrible hoarder I am.. This weekend I will mostly be wearing overalls.
I got to see Michael Pragnell, the company’s Chief Executive the other day. Big office. Head honcho. Also very Oxford and private school. I used a word “irredentism” that he did not know and we mused about this for some time. I wondering if I had just been extremely pretentious. He wondering who the hell I thought I was.
Last weekend I decided to concentrate on a wholesale change of plugs on all the electrical appliances. I went down to the village Saturday morning to buy hundreds of plugs and transformers and extension cables. The Swiss have totally different designs for all of these things. I started well, changing the plugs in the kitchen so that everything made more sense in terms of their position and the space available, then changing plugs in the basement, therefore bringing to an end the rather dangerous temporary electrical arrangement made for th, e freezer and the vacuum cleaner. I started getting confused by the complications of telephone filters, ADSL settings, the computer in general, then surfaced again and found at the end that I had more or less done everything. Quite the handyman. I don’t know why it is that one learns more about DIY in a rented place than in one’s own but it is definitely true.
Came off me bike this morning. Felt like a right greasy rocker except that it would have looked hilarious to anyone watching. Er and except I was wearing shorts and a T shirt not quite long enough to hide my collops. Having broken the chain on my bike yesterday I resorted to the newer bike that I had brought over from England and was trying the brakes, which worked, but worked like a trap closing with the effect that I found myself suddenly catapulted over the handlebars and onto the road. Scrapes and bruises and a sense of idiocy. My helmet worked to prevent a nasty head wound so there’s a lesson. Or as everyone seems to say today, a “learning”.
I have nearly unpacked all the removals cases and consigned all our music in the three forms in which it works, temporarily, to the air raid shelter in the basement
We were invited to lunch by our neighbours on Sunday and we exchanged light conversation while our kids all played together in the paddling pool (Gwen and their kids, that is) So life seems to have at last settled down and we are finally installed in Switzerland. Who knows what will happen next.