After such a long Christmas holiday break, going back to work in early January had an unwelcome back-to-school feel about it, and I adjusted as quickly as I felt able to the pre-dawn departures on the bike in the icy black air. There is still no snow in Basel (even a morning frost is not yet a regular event) but there is some snow on the Jura mountains. It is a particularly unique and Swiss sensation to look up to the jagged skyline and see the snow glinting on the uplands, a sight that always brings a small but sharp rush of adrenalin. No, we have not yet gone skiing. Alli has anyway given up skiing. I need increasingly good arguments to pull on the ski boots and we have no sporting sojourn planned. But the girls are a different story. Jessie and Ella went to ski camp just before school started. Gwen left the following week for Haute Nendaz in the Valais, on the other side of the mountain from Verbier. After four full days of skiing and away from home for the first time she came back tired, triumphant and exuberant.
You know that we have a dog – Bonnie, and a temporary guest – Licorice. During most of January we had no less than four dogs; Bonnie, Licorice, Einstein and Eccles – the last two being eight year- old slow moving terriers staying with us while their owner was away on holiday. Accustomed more to the sofa than to the wild woods of Oberwil and the French borderlands, these dogs had a major lifestyle change in the last few weeks. Bonnie nevertheless provided the biggest surprise of all as our pets collectively became a fully fledged pack. While lithe of limb she is also scant of hair and flimsy of frame, and yet she became the acknowledged pack leader by a long way. She has become headstrong and headily disobedient, leading a quasi-apocalyptic four-headed charge almost whenever she is able, to such an extent that we have been obliged to keep her on a short lead for much of each walk. There are record numbers of deer in the woods and the scent is still high. Bonnie, wispy scrap of a dog, has become a lean, muscled wolverine gangleader, sleaking across open fields in pursuit of storks, crows or even flapping black plastic bags. In the woods she is always the last to return after power- stalking the prey at high speed while the other three dogs do their best to keep up the charge, shuffling and fluffling around the undergrowth with their big stubby paws.
The Indian meal moth infestation has returned to our kitchen cupboards. We thought we had got rid of them some months ago in a quasi-military (“mopping-up”) chemical operation but they have flittered back. The Plodia interpunctella is a determined little grey- brown moth that flies slowly and whirringly, leaving a nasty smear when crushed, but very difficult as a collective group to eradicate (or define – any ideas for a plurality of moths?). They get into grains and nuts, rice and pulses, even tea, as I discovered when inspecting my prized Wintertraum.
We have been house hunting, mostly in France, and have seen some interesting properties. I don’t know if it is a good time to buy, but I do know that renting long term, especially in Switzerland, is a not a good idea, and was one of the first to fall when we started to economise properly on our outgoings. Whether it’s to be in France or Switzerland. the new home does have to be in reasonable reach of the school, although Alli and I might have to become round the clock taxi- drivers for our partying teenagers. Talking of which, we had three school students for a few days from the International School in Tunis staying with us in order to take part in an international schools basketball competition. Their partying was severely limited by a rather unrealistic school-imposed curfew of 10pm, which was actually backed by a verificatory phone call, coming in just minutes after 10pm each night. We responsible parents stood firm on the letter of the law, but it was hard.
Jessie, who is now well into her first year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma course, has started on her chosen subjects and is about to decide what to do for an extended essay. She has had a friend staying with us for a few days – David, her ex-boyfriend, who now studies music in England. Ella is getting good marks in her various subjects and is now thinking about what to do for her personal project in the Middle Years Program. Likewise, I am seriously thinking about what my personal project could be as I prepare to sign myself,
yours from the Steadily Advancing Years Program,